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Aiding Disaster Response and Relief with Innovations in Power Generation

Adli Renhoran, 31, found himself treading over broken roads as he visited various areas of Lombok, Indonesia, in 2018. What he observed startled him, but also served as a catalyst for one of Indonesia’s much-needed, innovative disaster relief technologies.

We realised last year there was a series of massive earthquakes which disrupted every part of Lombok. It crippled electrical infrastructure from power plants, transmission grids, and everywhere else, so there’s no electricity. The thing with electricity is that when you need it the most, you can’t deliver it like food or water – you have to figure out how to bring it there,” said Adli.

Adli is one of the three founders of Solargency, a social enterprise that designs and delivers disaster relief technology. Founded in 2018, the Indonesian-born venture aims to assist in disaster relief efforts through its portable solar power solutions.

Climate change is amplifying the severity of weather-related disasters

From his travels, it was apparent to Adli that one of the challenges of providing electricity in the aftermath of a natural disaster is the reliance on complex infrastructure and technical support. Unlike food or clothes, electricity cannot be unloaded from an aeroplane or lifted from a ship. What needed to be developed was technology that could rapidly respond in the hour of need. It had to be resilient, low-cost, mobile and quickly deployed.

To tackle the electrification challenges that occurred as a result of natural disasters, Solargency developed a modular ‘solar solution in a box’ that could be rapidly deployed and easily transported. The company’s solar technology solution aims to provide between 3.2 and 5 kilowatts of renewable power, bypassing the need for traditional generators that require diesel.

The addition of battery storage to Solargency’s model ensures access to 24 hours of stored electricity, with no other generation needs besides the obvious access to sunlight. Aside from the technology’s modular setup, a resilient build was necessary to face the harsh environmental and road conditions in the wake of a disaster.

“It’s tough to get to natural disaster areas – it’s a challenge for the design, and for a technology’s mechanical and electrical elements. In our solar solution, we had to make sure the lithium battery was tough enough to be transported into the areas. To travel across narrow roads, our solution was to utilise a specially fitted trailer that would hold the battery in a stable position,” said Yan Yan Achdiansyah, Adli’s partner at the social venture.

Indonesia, the world’s third most populous democracy, straddles the volatile Ring of Fire, an area of extreme volcanic activity, exposing the country to disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. Devastating cyclones offer an added threat during the annual cyclone season. Indonesia was hit by almost 2,000 natural disasters in 2008 alone, killing an estimated 4,000 people, and causing the displacement of approximately 3 million more.

Indonesia was hit by almost 2,000 natural disasters in 2008 alone, killing an estimated 4,000 people

While Indonesia represents an extreme scenario, it is not alone in being exposed to the brutal force of natural disasters. According to the Belgium-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), there were 315 significant natural disasters recorded globally in 2018, taking the lives of almost 12,000 people, and impacting over 68 million more. Almost half of those deaths occurred in Indonesia, while the wider Asia region was victim to 45% of recorded disasters. Scientific consensus is clear; climate change is amplifying the severity of weather-related natural disasters.

Solargency is not alone in their quest; companies across the globe are taking up the clarion call to innovate in this space. The UK’s Renovagen has designed solar panels that can be rolled and packed for easy distribution in disaster-hit areas or war zones. US energy giant General Electric has its own rapidly deployable base-load power solution with the TM2500+ ‘power plant on wheels’. Two of these engines were commissioned to aid in restoring power to weather-ravaged Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The solutions may vary, but these technologies address the same fundamental problem – the rising number of natural disasters.

“We want to help build more resilient infrastructure in Indonesia that is more able to cope with natural disasters … that is what is really bringing us together – the impact of natural disasters. We’re preparing for a potential future where there’s no more renewable electricity, no more conventional electricity, only the whole of Indonesia, the whole of civilization, coming together to combat natural disasters,” says Adli. “Indonesia’s ongoing battle against natural disasters may very well become an inescapable battle for the rest of the world in the near future”, he adds.

With a growing global population that is set to top eight billion in coming years, along with the increasing severity of these devastating events, the need for improved disaster relief is clear. As climate change continues to amplify the worst effects of our weather, additional strain on emergency response resources is inevitable. Regardless of how rapidly the world shifts to answer that call, contemporary environmental conditions demonstrate a clear need for innovation to tackle the devastating effects of natural disasters.

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