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News & Events

MSc SELECT students are fulfilling their vision to bring solar energy to small islands

When the MSc SELECT team started their project to save a small Thai fishing island’s energy source in March of 2018, they knew it was going to be a big challenge. They faced working long distance, coordinating with local agencies in Thailand, and the time pressure of saving a failing system that was losing power daily. However, the team rose to the challenge and as the Koh Jik ReCharge project nears the end (May 2019), they have a lot of successes under their belt – and are setting up a legacy to not only help this small community but positively affect the lives of many other communities with their microgrid solution.


Exciting developments

Investors are a must for any project’s success – and they found one that is dedicated to the success of the microgrid upgrade and to the creation of a working business model that will keep the Koh Jik microgrid operational in the long-run. The investment will come from a joint venture between Blue Solar and Symbior Solar. Since Blue Solar is developing utility-scale PV plus storage, they see Koh Jik as a small test bed before implementing large scale Li-ion energy storage systems (ESS). More developments:

  • All stakeholders have agreed to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that states interest from all parties to undertake the project.
  • The team, on behalf of the Koh Jik community, received a grant from the Australian Embassy in Bangkok under their Direct Aid Programme (DAP), which is earmarked for the replacement of old analogue meters with digital meters to simplify the island’s billing system. They expect to install the new meters in April 2019.

Visiting the Island

The team spent four nights on the island in January, verifying data and getting to know the chief and community. Since they have to wait for microgrid components and smart digital meters, the decision was made to do something extra while they were there. They wanted to demonstrate to the community how solar panels can be an integral part of their day to day life – so they mounted a set of solar street lamps to make walking after dark easier, and also installed demonstration sets of solar water pumps for their fishing boats. Although the most valuable part of the trip was the opportunity to experience real community daily life, which was educational and imperative for the energy system design. The team was overwhelmed by the beauty and simplicity of life here and shared, “A place like Koh Jik is absolutely unique and almost unreachable for tourists, of which millions come to Thailand every year. Chief Narongchai Hemsuvan and his family were great hosts, and the reception from the whole community was very positive. We left the island filled with incredible seafood, amazing stories and feeling that engineering school was a pretty good call.”

Setting up a legacy

The team’s vision has been to bring the success of this project to other small islands from day one, to spread and help these tiny communities that are sometimes forgotten. This vision led to co-hosting a successful ‘Watt’s Up? Meetup’ event in Bangkok, with the theme of “Electrifying Islands with Microgrids” where the group shared their project. They also presented their project at the SPECS conference organised by the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and visited the Thai Ministry of Energy to meet with the Ministry’s team – who are now advisors to the project. It’s clear that they continuously work towards their goal to spread this solution – and people are listening!

The team has encountered a lot of interest from different sides, from technology providers to the private sector and high-ranking government officials willing to support such projects. The Ministry of Energy in Thailand is looking closely at their initiative as a showcase of local community cooperation with the private sector and industry. A few side projects are also running in collaboration with their partners, and they are also working with GIZ (German development agency) to assess the broader microgrid potential on other Thai islands. With optimisation studies being conducted for other islands, the lessons learned from the Koh Jik ReCharge project will be key input in developing national policy recommendations for future community microgrids – and Koh Jik’s success will be proof of concept.

Unexpected discoveries

Tasked to complete an engineering project within one year, as part of the EIT MSc SELECT programme, it has been such a learning experience for each of this group’s 11 members. From the inception to the final stages that are now falling into place, they’ve learned the value of being part of the large InnoEnergy network and having so much expertise to tap into. The hidden value of the programme is learning to overcome the challenges that working internationally brings, “Each team member has been tested during this journey and has come to discover their true strengths and unique abilities… such an invaluable benefit – and something that will carry on into whatever we do in the future.”

Their visit to Koh Jik was also an eye-opener in so many ways. An unexpected side project was dealing with plastic waste. The team removed 500 kg of garbage from the beach, that was not from the community itself. Waste that was carried by the ocean and just ended up there, which is an enormous worldwide problem. “It’s a reminder that we all need to cut the plastic from our lives, whenever and wherever we can. We can make a difference!”

Final details

While the team fine-tunes the last details, working with investors and component providers, the project is going as planned. Their key assumptions and general design ideas are still valid – a lithium ion battery-oriented hybrid AC/DC system with a high share of renewable production – so once they take delivery of the final components, the system will go live.

A project like this is technical, yes, but also very personal since you get invested in the lives of the community that you are helping to save. It’s no wonder that they came back from Thailand changed by the experience. The whole team is committed to staying involved after their SELECT adventure ends to make sure everything is in place. “Some of us are working on our master thesis directly related to the Koh Jik project, and some side projects are already initiated. We are hoping to present results and lessons learned at conferences and workshops in the second half of 2019. We want to share as much as we can to help more projects like this grow!”

Engineer the future

To become part of the InnoEnergy ecosystem and  shape the future of global energy, apply to InnoEnergy Master’s School by 10 June deadline.