Sustainable electricity and information networks in Papua New Guinea

This project addresses the challenges of affordable, reliable electricity and building foundations for economic growth and education in Papua New Guinea. It will develop low voltage micro grid architectures for electricity distribution, develop new, cost effective processes to develop engines adapted to biofuels, and explore the potential of overlaying a communication network using the power cables for internet access.

Overview

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an example of a developing country with a large rural population (~87% of 6.7 m people) with a low level of access to electricity (~12%) whilst being rich in potential renewable energy sources. The push to renewables has stalled with about three-quarters of the installed micro hydro systems no longer in use, a high percentage of residential and public facility PV and wind systems have failed, and the majority of smaller grid systems are operating poorly. The reliability of the gridis a key concern, both in terms of the grid architecture itself and the generators supplying the energy. At the same time, internet connectivity is low with 6.5% of the population connected, restricting the flow of knowledge and information. This is a significant barrier to economic growth as the internet plays an important role in effective dissemination and application of knowledge across the Pacific Island nations.

Specifically, in Papua New Guinea (PNG) there is mountainous and sparsely populated terrain coupled with numerous islands (~600) making data connections challenging. The situation led PNG to establish its National Vision 2050 with priorities to build technology infrastructure supported with education. At a recent APEC Summit meeting in Port Moresby (Capital of PNG) an agreement has been signed between PNG, USA, Australia and New Zealand on Rural Electrification. This is to meet the 2030 electricity target of providing 70% of household with affordable and reliable electricity and this population is mainly in the rural areas of PNG. This is the National Electrification Roll-Out Plan (NEROP) which has been submitted for the National Executive Council's (NEC) approval. The best approach in providing electricity to the rural communities would be use of low voltage DC grids. 

Recent publication (Dec 2018) of a report funded by the world bank analyses how domestic responsibilities impact the ability of women to allocate their labour to cultivate, harvest and process cocoa and coffee in PNG. "This report demonstrates that when women are given more equal control over domestic and financial decisions, as well as better access to technology such as mobile phones and the internet, there is a direct correlation with increased cocoa and coffee sales, as well as improvements in children’s health, nutrition, education and poverty reduction,” said Patricia Veevers-Carter, the World Bank’s Country Manager for PNG.

Project description

This project will build a collaboration between the Department of Engineering at the University of Sussex, the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) and the University of Technology, PNG. The collaboration will address the GCRF challenge ‘Affordable, reliable and sustainable energy’ through work on reliable community micro grids for electricity and data distribution. By developing these grids with data transmission in mind, the collaboration will improve internet access. This will in turn assist economic growth and provide support to education, addressing the challenges of ‘sustainable livelihoods ...’ and ‘Inclusive ... education’.

The project will build a collaboration to develop modular micro grids (community-based low voltage electricity networks) for both power and data for rural communities in low and middle income countries, such as PNG. The rationale is to design the networks at the outset to be suitable for power line data communications, rather than try to re-engineer at a later date or rely on wireless or cellular access. The combined network provides two services (power and data) that will increase benefits of such a grid and increase the chances of take up by the local population.

Reliability of the networks will be a key aspect of the work, exploiting recent advances in grid architectures, data analytics coupled with cost effective biofuel engine developments to provide controllable power when required to fill in the gaps in the intermittent renewable energy supply. The project will seek to validate the hypothesis that the problem of the poor take up of renewables is linked to the reliability of the systems and local skills/education required to maintain and exploit the power supplies. 

This project will initiate the concept phase of the development, integrating the two research teams (UK and PNG), assessing the relevance of the community micro grid concept and biofuel engine developments. The study will provide the basis for future funding calls to develop the modular grids through prototypes and into operational systems. The project will address specific issues associated with the PNG geography such as the sparse population who are separated by mountainous terrain or island communities that makewireless communications difficult. The use of the powerlines to distribute data allows a single, well situated access point to be used to connect the whole local network. Enabling the rural population to benefit from access to data and the internet as well as a reliable electricity grid. 

The collaboration will build contacts for social and policy studies, to prepare future grant applications for activities such as: Review the current utility market, the typical low to medium income countries utility model for low cost community owned micro grids and apply to the PNG population. Research topic: Low Voltage DC micro grid. 

The introduction of DC low voltage micro grids (LVMG) is seen as a key enabler to connect large numbers of people in developing countries to electricity, with Dr S Skarvelis-Kazakos from Sussex being a member of the IEEE P2030.10 working group developing an industrial standard for the off grid LVMG. Low voltage networks are a cost effective way of distributing electricity safely. Renewable Energy (RE) is often generated in DC. Avoiding AC power systems reduces the number of converters and inverters in the network –reducing costs. Low voltages can improve safety through reducing risk of electric shocks whilst some of the disadvantages of low voltages are being addressed through efficient power electronics and LED lighting. Adopting a48V standard allows carry over of products from other industries such as automotive where increasing numbers of components are being developed at 48V. In particular, Dr Skarvelis-Kazakos has recently started a research project considering “Reliable, reconfigurable DC distribution networks (R2D2-NET). This new collaboration would exploit this work, significantly increasing the resulting impact. In addition, the industrial partner, Tangent Energy, has developed large battery systems that can be integrated with renewable energy to further enhance the reliability of the power network.

At the University of PNG, Mr S Aiau is researching solar and wind distributed power system in the Markham valley where the LVMG can be applied. This is part of the plan to meet the 2030 electricity target of providing 70% of household with affordable and reliable electricity. During the visit to PNG, Prof. Fussey will visit the Markham valley and review potential sites for LVMGs. As part of this visit, he will review the reasons for the poor takeup of renewable energy and seek to validate the research hypothesis.Research topic: Powerline CommunicationsTransmission of data via power line cables is an active area of research.

Within the Engineering Department at Sussex, Dr Z Sheng is developing powerline communications (PLC) protocols and networks. This project will consider the application of the PLC to the LVMG, specifically looking at the design of the architecture to reduce attenuation of the data signals. During the visit to PNG, Prof. Fussey will meet with local service providers to assess potential for including powerline communications with the LVMGs. Research topic: Cost effective engine development tools Trust in the reliability of networks is essential to gain acceptance by the local population.

In parallel with the network robustness, the robustness of the RE will be complimented with biofuel generation to cover gaps in RE. Whilst PNG has rich renewable energy sources, they are not always where needed and it can be unreliable for example less solar than expected due to misty conditions in highlands. Prof. Fussey and Prof. Pumwa plan to collaborate on developing applications of biofuels for the specific fuel opportunities in the PNG market, for example coconut oil. A key element of engine development is the ability to measure the engine performance and emissions. The measurement equipment for the latest emissions levels is very expensive and not available in developing countries. The research planned will develop cost effective sensors and development approaches to empower researchers in developing countries to engineer new solutions to their challenges, using locally sourced equipment. During the visit to PNG, Prof. Fussey will review the local engine development facilities and available of ‘Commercial Off the Shelf’ components to prepare a concept for cost effective tools to develop engines.

After this visit has been completed, the PI and CIs will use the concept definition as a basis for future GCRF bids. The technology being developed is applicable to many situations so has a high re-use potential. Specifically, the team will consider applications in PNG and West Africa to continue building these relationships. In addition to GCRF, this work could also form the basis for bids for LVMGs from other sources such as the World Bank who are investing in Sustainable RE in the Pacific Islands, for example: the World Bank's Sustainable Energy Development and Access Project.

Timeline and funding

Timeline

2020-2021

Funding

SSRP-IDCF funding

The team

  • Principle Investigator (PI) and Co-Investigators

    Principal Investigator

    • Professor Peter Fussey, School of Engineering and Informatics

    Co-investigators

    • Dr Spyros Skarvelis-Kazakos, School of Engineering and Informatics
    • Dr Zhengguo Sheng, School of Engineering and Informatics
  • Project team
    • John Mustarde, Tangent Energy
    • Professor John Pumwa, Papua New Guinea University of Technology
    • Dr S Aiau, Papua New Guinea University of Technology

Where we worked

Papa New Guinea.