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Modular Power Blocks Snap Together to Scale Up Energy Needs in Remote Areas

A microgrid solution that uses a swarm intelligence algorithm could finally electrify rural Africa

4 min read
Two red cube shaped Power-Blox units stacked one on top of the other, in front of a solar panel.
Photo: Power-Blox

More than 1 billion people in the world live without electricity. The challenge of bringing it to them is somewhat analogous to the desire decades ago to install fixed telephone lines in impoverished communities. The need was there, but the money wasn’t. Then mobile phones came along and now communication is ubiquitous, even among the poorest. Electricity could use a similar fix:a relatively inexpensive and lightweight solution, technically speaking, that can be set up quickly in rural areas and serve millions of people in a short time frame.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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