On solar safari in the Serengeti: challenges and opportunities for the energy transition

The roads surrounding Kilimanjaro airport are lined with solar-powered led-lights, but by the time it’s midnight already half of them have died. Some keep switching on and off at random, most probably due to lack of power supply. Since the batteries are poured in concrete to discourage theft, they’re equally hard to repair or replace. It’s not a local issue, but familiar sight in Africa.

On solar safari

After only a short night the sun gets up at half past six and a bustling morning guides us to Karibu-Kilifair, the biggest road show for the tourism industry in East Africa, where the showpiece is a safari vehicle converted from diesel to electricity. The first in Tanzania, at least so we’re told. According to a representative, maintenance costs for regular land cruisers easily run up to $1000 a month, partly due to enormous distances they cover for collecting fuel, but so far the total expense on spare parts for the handful of operational solar prototypes is only $1 a year. While these numbers may be exaggerated, the constant crowd around the demo vehicle indicates huge interest.

Shocking conditions

Still, it’s quite a challenge to design an energy storage system for electric four-wheel-drives, that’s robust enough to withstand a lifetime of shaking and shocking on the bumpy dirt roads, while durable enough to hold up in the harsh conditions of high temperatures, high humidity and iron rich dust. Building it is one thing, charging it quite another in off-grid and expansive National Parks, let alone fast and frequent enough to prevent detours, minimise delays and keep passengers on the move. Yet all these problems are perceived as opportunities by the local entrepreneurs in tourism and tech. The air at the exhibition is static with inspiration and ideas.

Plenty sun – and potholes

If the energy transition can happen anywhere it’s here in Tanzania, just south of the equator, where the sun is omnipresent and the grid most certainly not. Already numerous small solar systems are in use throughout the country, mostly for powering lights and heating water, but scaling them up to larger installations is still relatively new and hard. It’s why we’re here, to support our local dealer Gadgetronix in a their ground breaking endeavour to run a luxury tourist resort in the middle of the Serengeti entirely on solar electricity.

Shaken, not stirred

The next day we board a tiny Cessna that takes us up to 12.500 feet of altitude, as the pilot assures us ‘we don’t want to run into any mountains’ and carries us for an hour across a variety of increasingly deserted landscapes to eventually land at Seronera, a tiny airport consisting of one building and a fire truck. As soon as we continue our trip by car we’re greeted by impala and baboons before we experience at first hand (and bottom) the tough circumstances these vehicles are subject to. The roads are covered with washboard ripples caused by the uniform bouncing of countless speeding wheels. Shaken but not stirred, we pass herds of gazelle, scattering zebra and a handful of giraffes until we round a hill and ascend it all the way to the top. There we find a Lahia: a brand-new luxury tourist lodge with a magnificent panoramic view a splendid infinity pool.

Jaw-dropping craftsmanship on diesel

Construction has been in full swing since November to literally build this whole place from scratch, which is an astounding feat, especially when considering from how far they bring in all the people, equipment and materials. A crew of two hundred men have set up camp to manufacture everything by hand, from fitting the rafters, to welding the beds, carpeting the furniture and sewing the drapes. It’s an awe-inspiring demonstration of craftsmanship nearly extinct in the west.

Tourist accommodations like these typically run on diesel generators, placed conveniently out of sight and out of sound, but nonetheless consuming hundreds of liters of fuel each day, guzzling oil and exhausting toxic fumes to the breath-taking surroundings and awe-inspiring animals already in danger of going extinct. Moreover, the continuous absorption of energy drains our planet’s limited supply of fossil fuels and last but not least the lodge owners’ bank accounts.

Saving water in a leaky bucket

Many resorts make use of solar energy to power at least some of their low energy equipment, but most bigger systems squeak and crack under heftier loads, which leads to complaints, frustration and improvised emergency solution that only add to the costs. Around here it’s still common to store energy in traditional lead-acid batteries, which compares to saving water in a leaky bucket that you can only fill and empty through a straw. Charge too fast, consume too quickly or deplete too far and they will heat, swell or leak. With heavy usage in demanding situations they require regular maintenance and typically last little longer than a few years. While these disadvantages may be overcome by being extremely cautious, their size and weight is not. Powering an upscale tourist resort like Lahia would require over nine tons of lead-acid batteries.

(Dis)charging through a firehose

It’s why we brought 20 MG lithium-ion High Energy batteries, extremely compact, highly efficient and with a total capacity of 150 kWh, while weighing ‘only’ 900 kg. These are more like the equivalent of titanium vessels you can fill and empty through a firehose. They are able to absorb and release an enormous amount of power in a very short time and feature an impressive cycle life. An added layer of electronics and smart software makes them easy to install and maintain. Because MG’s energy systems are frequently used in marine applications, the batteries are tested extensively for extreme conditions and comply with the highest safety standards.

Redundant energy supply

Over the past week we’ve supported the local crew in commissioning the installation. During the day a solar plant of nearly 500 panels harvests solar energy, inverted by 4 Fronius and 14 Victron MPPT’s before it flows through a grid created by 9 Victron Quattro’s to charge the batteries and, when there’s a surplus, power the resort. A Victron Venus GX allows us to remotely monitor the situation, day and night. The energy system is set up redundantly, which means each of the 5 MG low voltage masters is connected with 4 MG HE modules as an independent unit, to make sure the others keep on working even in the unlikely event one battery should fail. This way the entire lodge runs on solar electricity, from the water pumps to the swimming pool and the chandeliers in the dining room to the bedside table lamps, long after the sun sets on the Serengeti.

Side by side towards a common goal

It’s a steep learning curve to bridge the gap and cross the barriers between each other’s language, expertise, logistics, planning and customs, but side by side we work towards a common goal. After a couple of long days and short nights we can finally switch the giant diesel generator off and hear the sounds of all the animals around us on a dark safari night. In the comforting hum of a smoothly running power room we set up all the stools and crates that we can muster, to share some words of wisdom, while we celebrate our landmark achievement with soda and cake. ‘Hongera sana’ it reads in sweet letters, which is Swahili for ‘Many congratulations’. It’s done. Lahia is the first tourist lodge in the Serengeti to run entirely on solar electricity.

Stroopwafels and sharp observations

On your last day we depart with stroopwafels and heartfelt hugs before the Cessna flies us back to Arusha where we provide a technical training for anyone who’s interested in working with MG. We’re impressed with the warm welcome and deep interest from local engineers, which lead us through an animated and interesting discussion, that educates us all. Even an offered break is skipped for just a little bit more time to ask sharp questions on best practices and theory. If it weren’t for our scheduled flight, we would have enjoyed staying much longer getting to know our new acquaintances. But a car is ready to drive us through the early evening back to Kilimanjaro airport. Most of the lights that lead our way are burning, bright and uninterrupted, others not yet.

MG is recognized as one of the 100 most innovative companies in The Netherlands

We’re very honoured to have been recognized as one of the most innovative companies in The Netherlands. Each year small to medium-sized businesses compete for a place in the Chamber of Commerce Innovation Top 100. This impressive list is selected by a professional jury from hundreds of inspiring and promising Dutch companies. The official ranking will be announced during a festive event on september 25th. We’d like congratulate the other 99 contenders with their qualification in the race for Holland’s finest and may the best one win!

First resort in the Serengeti to run entirely on solar electricity with MG batteries

In Tanzania’s Serengeti on top of a hill you’ll find Lahia Tented Lodge, a brand new luxury resort with a magnificent view. Equally amazing is the fact that it’s the first accommodation in Africa’s best safari park to run entirely on solar electricity. Not just for heating water and burning lights, but the whole place, from the giant pumps supplying fresh water, up to the equipment for the infinity pool.

No more diesel generators using over a hundred liters of fuel each day, exhausting noise and toxic fumes, but an advanced off-grid large-scale eco-friendly solar system. A plant of 488 panels harvests energy during the day to power the entire property and load a bank of 20 MG HE Series lithium-ion batteries with a total capacity of 150 kWh to keep providing energy, long after the sun sets on the Serengeti.

It’s our first system to run in parallel redundant mode, which means several strings of batteries are connected in parallel and set up to control the Victron inverter/chargers through a digital link. Even in the event one battery string should fail, the installation will keep on running on the remaining ones. In case of an emergency or maintenance a back-up generator will seamlessly kick in.

It’s a proof of concept for the tourist industry that it can be done and this is how. While small solar systems are in wide use, most of them store their energy in lead-acid battery banks, which are limited in (dis)charge capacity. Put to heavy use in tough condition like these they only last a few years. This lithium-ion system is strong enough to power an entire off-grid tourist resort for at least a decade or more.

This system was commissioned in close cooperation with Anco van Bergeijk and our local dealer Gadgetronix.

 

Components used

Preserving Venice by boarding a hybrid vaporetto with MG’s batteries

When visiting the beautiful city of Venice there are to ways to get around: on foot or by water. In case the former is no option, a vaporetto is the way to go. It’s Italian for water bus and a large fleet makes up a public transport network for the city and province, transferring hundreds and thousands of passengers each day, from the mainland across the lagoon, through the canals and to the nearby islands.

The increase of tourists and therefor transportation has a dangerous impact on the delicate environment of the lagoon in general and the canals in particular, with many precious historic buildings on their banks. The constant navigation and frequent manoeuvring generates a lot of waves and washing water, which in turn leads to progressive erosion of their foundations, draining them of sand and clay.

Operating conditions of a vaporetto are very particular. Due to the many stops, congested traffic, varying speed limits and timetable optimisation their navigation pattern show high acceleration and deceleration performances. The heavy sequence of stop-an-go transitions requires a very irregular power supply. When supplied directly by a generator, this would lead to high diesel consumption and high exhaust emissions.

Enter Liuto: an acronym for Low Impact Urban Transport water Omnibus. It’s a vaporetto with a low resistance hull and a hybrid energy solution, designed around two decades ago. The 300kW Siemens propulsion system used to be powered by lead-acid battery pack, which in turn was charged by a diesel generator running at constant speed. This way the engine could operate at its optimum efficiency level, minimising fuel consumption, pollutant emissions, vibrations and noise.

At the time the hydrodynamic impact was reduced by the optimised hull and propeller, while the hybrid energy solution was a good compromise between technical, economic and environmental requirements. Recently its lead-acid battery bank has been upgraded to MG’s RS batteries, two strings of eight modules each, controlled by a HV Master. Together they operate as peak power supply and energy buffer, under very high but short charge/discharge power levels.

This is what our RS Series excel at. Compared to traditional lead-acid batteries these lithium-ion modules can take in and push out a large amount of power in a short time. Liquid thermal management keeps the battery cells on temperature, to improve performance and extend cycle life. A redundant BMS, a unique cell-to-cell propagation protection and a built-in fire suppression mechanism take safety to the next level. As an added advantage they’re compact and lightweight.

Compared to steel or aluminium vessels with traditional propulsion systems Liuto is a beautiful example of a more efficient, more economic and more ecological solution even in a challenging application such as urban water transport. It generates less wave motion pollution, less air pollution and increases comfort for all passengers. Now it’s ready to serve another decade while protecting the delicate and valuable context of Venice and its lagoon, for both tourist and inhabitants alike.

Components used

MG’s safe and powerful solutions at the Electric & Hybrid Marine World Expo 2019

From June 25-27 we’re at the Electric & Hybrid Marine World Expo 2019, with a range of safe and powerful solutions we’re very excited to present to you.

On the threshold of an energy transition: impressions from the EES

It’s hard to describe the feeling of sheer excitement that filled us at ees Europe last week. We traveled to Munich for Europe’s largest and most international exhibition for batteries and energy storage systems. Together with around 470 suppliers of energy storage systems and technologies we presented our innovative products, solutions and services to around 50,000 visitors.

The atmosphere was vibrant due to a booming economic growth. A recent report by Delta-ee shows the European energy storage market grew by 75% in 2018 (which equals 1.2 gigawatts), marking a sharp upturn in a steeply ascending line. The trend reinforces earlier forecasts and is expected to continu worldwide. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) the global energy storage market will expand a staggering 13-fold over the next five years to nearly 1,000 GW by 2040.

We’ve noticed an increasing demand for domestic, commercial and industrial storage systems, with a focus on peak-shaving, off-grid and solar applications. MG offers a line of top-quality solutions to meet these demands when it comes to performance and efficiency. Moreover, while security regulations have yet to be developed for this sector, our products already comply with the highest safety standards for maritime storage systems. This makes them not only state of the art, but also future proof.

During the entire conference our booth was powered by our own energy storage systems, based on HE batteries configured in our E-Rack which was connected to our Energy Portal to monitor its performance real time. Apart from that we brought our RS Series to illustrate our head start when it comes to safety. Last but not least we introduced our new LFP Series in 12 and 24V, which suits a wide range of ess applications, both mobile and connected to the grid.

After three exhilarating days we traveled home with heads full of inspiration and hearts full of hope. The energy transition is definitely gaining traction and we are eager to take advantage of this grand momentum to expand our business even further by charging new territories to help the world run on renewable capacity with unlimited power. Full speed ahead!

MG’s energy storage systems at ees Europe 2019

From May 15 until 17 we’ll present our new E-Rack system at ees Europe in Munich, Europe’s largest and most international exhibition for energy storage.

MG celebrates ten year anniversary and an inspiring documentary

So today, ten years ago, they founded MG: ‘Back then we built the world’s first solar boats, now every new super yacht comes with a hybrid system. Think of where we could be in another ten years!’

Sealegs charges into the future with amphibious craft on renewable energy

Sealegs is a world leaders in amphibious crafts, designed and developed to take all the hassle out of boat launching and retrieval. The system simply drives from a storage location, down a boat ramp or beach and into the water. Once afloat, the wheels lift up out of the water to be stored against the hull, and the boat is used as normal.

The company has been driving the amphibious boating revolution since its start in 2001. The very first versions had electric motors driving the wheels, while across the rest of its models hydraulic propulsion is powered by a petrol engine. But the E4 combines high-torque brushless electric motors with MG’s high density 7kWh lithium battery technology. In many ways it may be the best Sealegs craft yet.

Without a petrol engine roaring the E4 is quieter, but runs faster and longer than conventional models. With a standard 150hp outboard it achieves 40 knots, while it drives for around 1.5 hours on a land, depending on speed, load and terrain. Performance is further increased by regenerative braking and outboard charging. All the usual safety features, such as emergency braking, are included.

Without having to accommodate a petrol engine, there’s more flexibility to house the 51 V 7 kWh lithium ion battery, which takes four to five hours to fully recharge, by simply plugging it into a 240 V mains supply. The outboard also feeds the battery via the VSR and a PowrFlow step-up charger, as does the regenerative braking system. Solar power is another option. All systems are connected to a central Naviop display which supports MG’s battery systems to show battery status.

Combining of the latest battery and motor technology quite possibly represents the future of amphibious boating. “The release of the Electric E4 takes Sealegs’ global leadership position in amphibious technology to the next level,” according to Founder and Chief Technology Officer Maurice Bryham. “We have made our amphibious system 33% faster, 60% quieter and 50% more powerful.”

Components used

Loodswezen saves weight by replacing lead acid battery banks by MG’s High Power alternative

Loodswezen‘s maritime pilots make sure sea-going ships enter and exit their ports as safely and efficiently as possible. Day and night. Under any circumstance. The highly trained crew assists over 90 000 vessels a year in their voyage to and from Dutch and Flemish seaports on the Scheldt River and is on call 24 hours a day.

Tenders are used for embarkation and disembarkation as well as transporting the pilots smoothly and securely. Normally these very manoeuvrable boats come equipped with large and heavy lead-acid battery banks in order to deliver energy for propulsion and onboard service systems.

However, in close cooperation with MG a unique and innovative systems has been installed, consisting of 4 compact, light yet highly powerful battery modules, strong enough to deliver the peak capacity needed to start both engines and keep all systems running.

The entire system weighs only 100 kg, which is 3 times less than the traditional lead acid battery banks. Yet it complies with Loodswezen’s high standards of safety and efficiency. But most importantly, the tenders run fast, quietly and conveniently.

Thus the project illustrates how a  successful cooperation results in a sustainable industrial application.

Components used

Engine starting systems, 24 V (twofold)

Service system, 24 V

Supply & installation

This system is supplied and installed by our partner Alewijnse Marine.