The path towards net-zero carbon is arguably the biggest challenge of the 21st century. If we aim to succeed sustainably on a global scale, it is necessary to align our decarbonisation efforts with economic development. Driven by innovation, this offers an enormous chance to not only tackle climate change but also increase the standard of living worldwide. Areas, where these two topics appear inseparably connected, are regions without access to the electricity grid.
“ Over the course of the past two decades, accelerated adoption of photovoltaics has brought us ever closer to a clean and affordable decentralisation of energy systems.”
Today, so-called off-grid areas are mainly served by diesel or gasoline generators: a growing market with a global volume of USD 20 bn in 2019. Pollutants, emissions and noise are in stark contrast to the global quest for clean energy. As the WHO estimates that air pollution results in an estimated 7 million deaths per year, cities such as New Delhi take extreme measures including temporary bans on the use of diesel generators to stabilise air quality. Nonetheless, for many of the two billion people that cannot rely on an uninterrupted grid supply, conventional generators often remain the only affordable solution.
This theme links back to industrialised countries, where the rapid growth of digital services and telecommunications infrastructure also calls for innovative approaches to provide sustainable energy "off the grid” or to counter power outages.
Over the course of the past two decades, accelerated adoption of photovoltaics has brought us ever closer to a clean and affordable decentralisation of energy systems. Driven by technological advancements and economies of scale, solar has become the cheapest source of energy in a variety of settings. But as outlined by the World Energy Council, a sustainable energy supply is contingent on Energy Security. In most regions, pure solar-and-storage solutions are hardly capable of ensuring a year-round power supply – thus making solutions based on fuel-based power generators still the preferred choice.
Case Study: SIQENS Home - Siqens GmbH
One of the companies we at VNTManagement hold in our investment portfolio addresses this challenge: Munich-based SIQENS GmbH. With the vision of building a future that is independent of fossil fuels, the company is set to replace diesel generators with leading fuel cell technology.
Their core product, the SIQENS Ecoport 800, runs on liquid methanol. Inside the system, hydrogen is derived from methanol via reformation. The hydrogen then reacts with oxygen to generate electrical energy. As the Ecoport is designed as an automatic battery charger, it can be simply integrated into existing PV-and-storage systems – effectively backing up solar to provide clean energy throughout the entire year.
The system is used in several off-grid and backup power settings, such as an office container in central Germany. Here, it covers the daily consumption of 10 to 12 kWh in combination with a 12 kWh Li-NMC battery and an 8 kW photovoltaics capacity. In total, the solution saves roughly 88 percent fuel compared to a hybridised diesel generator. In addition, the use of fuel cells eliminates harmful emission such as nitrogen oxides and particulates.
While it is correct that methanol is today produced predominantly from natural gas, the carbon footprint in the described setting is reduced by 93 percent—even when using grey methanol. As several global chemical players outline a clear pathway for methanol to become a carbon-neutral fuel, it should not be undermined that such hybrid systems can already contribute significantly to the energy transition.
As a clean, cheap, and globally available fuel, methanol acts as an enabler of diesel-free and decentralised power generation. Even for mature technologies like photovoltaics, the example illustrates how innovative approaches and a shift towards clean fuels can help boost further adoption while aligning economic considerations and global decarbonisation efforts.