Interview with clean energy expert Dr. Thomas Hillig
Small islands, remote villages and isolated farms – all of them have to deal with unreliable energy supply. In off-grid areas or in places where the grid is weak and power outages occur regularly the dwellers are forced to find alternative solutions.
Dr. Thomas Hillig is an expert in the field of renewables, particularly in the solar energy sector. With his company he provides services and advice to organisations and enterprises with regards to renewable energy and e-mobility related topics. Being involved in the launch of Innotech solar modules made of optimised off-spec solar cells, he is perfectly aware of new solar energy technologies. As a speaker at the Remote Area Power Supply Conference in Melbourne in March 2016 he shared his know-how with other industry experts.
Within this interview Dr. Thomas Hillig will explain how remote areas can be supplied with clean energy in the future.
The meeco Group: Still today many industrial consumers and villages are not connected to the national grid. Which role will the solar industry play in the future to cope with this challenge?
Dr. Thomas Hillig: Recent developments in renewables and storage solutions create new opportunities for end-users who are not connected to the grid. These end-customers mainly live in developing countries and in remote areas. They often produce their power on-site with diesel generators as substitute for grid-connected energy supply. These fossil fuel generators require extensive maintenance and are cost-intensive. So-called PV-diesel hybrid systems combine the advantages of solar power and diesel generators. Thus, solar power plants reduce the diesel consumption, which is more sustainable, convenient and cheaper for the end-consumers. In more advanced concepts, the diesel generator can even be switched off completely by using solar power plus storage technologies, such as batteries.
What are the key markets for these off-grid energy solutions?
Key markets are islands, developing countries with a weak energy infrastructure and remote regions, such as Greek or the Caribbean islands, Western or Central Africa, Western and Northern Australia or Northern parts of Canada – just to give a few examples.
What are the key industries for off-grid energy solutions?
Many mines are located in remote areas and require large amounts of energy. Island hotels and resorts offer further interesting applications. The agricultural and telecommunications sector can also highly benefit from off-grid solar power solutions.
As a mining expert, which are the major trends in supplying remote areas with clean energy?
More and more independent power producers (IPPs) have identified the mining industry and other large industrial end-customers as a target industry. Their business model consists in investing in off-grid power plants and in selling electricity to the industrial end-customer. In addition, we see many new solutions entering the market that are tailor-made for off-grid power generation with solar and wind. I work with companies, which offer weather-forecasting tools, mobile solar and wind solutions and diesel generators that are optimised for balancing fluctuations from wind and solar energy. These major trends will shape the energy market in the next years.
Most people think that clean energy solutions are not affordable. What is your experience and perception of this?
In the last years, the price of solar and wind energy solutions has come down considerably. In addition, today’s low interest rates make long-term infrastructure investments in solar and wind power attractive. Off-grid power is one of the most profitable areas of clean energy as decentralized power generation based on fuel is extremely expensive and the eco-friendly energy from the sun offers a cheaper alternative.