The clock started in March, as the 11-person team – formed to deliver a complete engineering project within a year – decided that the tiny island of Koh Jik’s dire energy access problem was the perfect challenge to take on. The inhabitants were gradually losing access to energy, as their existing system failed, and there wasn’t any support available to them… until now. We caught up with team members Tanai Potisat and Adam Krysztofiński to hear how this exciting project is going since they are right in the middle of it!
The ReCharge Project
Implement by 2nd-year students as part of the EIT Master’s programme (who met at KTH in August 2017), the “ReCharge Project” aims to restore and improve the micro-grid system on Koh Jik, a peaceful fisherman’s island that is a 40-minute boat ride from the East Coast of Thailand. The 400 inhabitants have been fully off-grid, but now the system is getting old and critical components, such as batteries and control systems, are failing. Without help, the community will have to turn to unsustainable diesel for power. Tanai explains, “In our project, we are aiming to use state of the art lithium-ion batteries which have a much better performance and lifetime compared to the typical lead-acid batteries that are found in such rural projects. Smart digital meters are planned to be deployed which is a leapfrog ahead of most on-land households in Thailand that are still using analogue meters. When successfully implemented it would be the first of its kind in Thailand.”
As the 8th month draws to a close, Adam shares, “The preliminary system design and financial analysis are ready, and we are in close contact with a few companies interested in investing in the project, so the final agreement is expected soon. External advisors such as NTU in Singapore and GIZ, along with InnoEnergy partner universities, and our vast network are consulting us. And we’ve managed to raise awareness of the project via social media and our website, as well as presenting it to fellow SELECT students and professors during the autumn seminar in Barcelona. All of this assists our efforts. When team members Tanai and Sasinipha visited the island in July, officials from the Thai Ministry of Energy along with potential investors and project partners also participated in the trip. To get a better understanding of the community, we visited several households to survey what appliances they have and their personal usage. After the site visit, we have now installed a remote monitoring device that allows us to collect data of over 50 parameters in 5-minute resolution and access them through the cloud.” Tanai adds, “We are working closely with project partners in Thailand who are ready to invest in the project. Together, we are finalising design details to select components. Other than generation assets that will be covered by the investors, we submitted a grant proposal to pay for the installation of smart metering infrastructure on the island which is currently pending. InnoEnergy and partner universities are covering internal team expenses.”
Up for the task
To pull off a project of this size and complexity, Adam says, “International cooperation is a crucial part of the project. Team members are currently located in 3 different European cities, our main partners are located in SE Asia, and we also engage experts and advisors from various countries. What we have experienced during the 1st year in the MSc SELECT programme definitely helped us to manage such relations. I can also say that our confidence is boosted and we are inspired by what our colleagues and alumni are capable of!”
The impact of this project is not only limited to the tiny island of Koh Jik, as Tanai explains, “It can definitely help other island communities facing the same problem in the region. A positive outcome could show that this type of project can be financially sustainable – and make it easier in the future to convince investors or government to get on board of such ventures. In Thailand alone, approximately 10% of islands are electrified by the national grid; the remaining 90% do not have access to affordable and reliable electricity supply. Many of which are small fisherman islands like Koh Jik, where the cost of laying down a multi-million submarine cable cannot be justified and are deemed unfeasible from the national electric utility’s perspective. Micro-grids provide a technical solution as proven by Koh Jik for the past 14 years, but the business case and social aspects for deployment scale-up are less proven. That’s our task. And on a team personal note, we hope to set a high bar and inspire future InnoEnergy students!”
Adam share: “All of us had a strong motivation to do something meaningful before the end of school. During studies, you usually produce a lot of paper that is rarely used in the “real” world. We wanted to actually design something and to see it get up and running. It was decided that the connections we have in Thailand (Tanai seems to know everyone in the country) gives us the best chance of success in the limited time we have. The community and local partners were very open to working with us, so here we are. Tanai proudly adds, “Speaking for myself and my team, the project may only be small in terms of size, but I feel there’s a charm in doing rural electrification projects because of the positive impact it creates and the difference it can make to the lives of the people. Small community projects are often neglected because it is minimal or no (financial) gain to be made. They often have many stakeholders and probably take the same amount of time to develop as larger projects. It is a very specific niche problem, so if we don’t do it then who’s going to?!”
For most of these EIT students, this is their first taste of what it’s like to use innovation to solve a real-life problem – affecting real people. It’s clear that this experience of using the knowledge gained in the programme to make other people’s lives better is something that will never leave them – and continue to drive their work in the future. If you would like to track their progress or collaborate in any way – please contact them via the project website.