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Powering local communities with solar-hydrogen batteries

Sarawak, the largest state of Malaysia, is experiencing rapid economic growth, fuelled by an electricity mix that is 75% renewable. Its population of 2.6m is concentrated around urban centres, but many communities live in rural areas where access to electricity can be a challenge. The state government has committed to reaching 100% electrification by 2025 and Sarawak Energy, the state’s local utility has deployed innovative solutions to achieve this goal. Among them is a solar-hydrogen hybrid system that has just entered a testing phase.

Rural electrification in Sarawak comes with many challenges as some communities reside in extremely remote areas, where road access is not an option. Bringing bulky systems to distant sites and disposing of batteries which have passed their life spans is a complex endeavour.

Sarawak Energy is exploring innovative solutions to address this problem through the Sarawak Alternative Rural Electrification Scheme (SARES). The objective of the scheme is to deploy solar energy as a clean energy solution to make life more convenient for villagers.

One of these solutions is a containerised and modular hydrogen storage system that converts excess renewable energy generated into hydrogen, which can then be transformed into electric power through fuel cells when required. For ease of transport to distant sites, the system consists of smaller parts that can be transported separately and assembled on site according to local needs and specifications.

The hydrogen storage system is a clean solution that will replace chemical batteries. It has a higher capacity per area and longer lifecycle in comparison to traditional battery solutions. This will allow the facility relying on it to run for a longer period without being replaced. This in turn will save costs in hardware procurement and in time: replacement and disposing of the old set will be done at less frequent intervals.

This system is part of a joint research study between Sarawak Energy and Pestech Energy, designed to explore the potential of the hydrogen storage solution to contribute to rural electrification efforts.

The objectives of the research are to implement containerised solar hydrogen as an alternative rural electrification solution to:

1. Develop a hybrid standalone hydrogen system with the solar photovoltaic for rural electrification.

2. Design the system to be stored in a portable container with modular parts that can be easily transported to and erected on site.

3. Perform experimental works on each component to verify the performance of the relevant equipment.

4. Perform 6 months of research & development testing on the solar hydrogen system at Rumah Bangau (starting in Q1 2022).

5. Evaluate the operation & maintenance works as well as the precautionary and safety measures in place when handling the solar hydrogen system.

Sarawak Energy and Pestech Energy will work together to implement the containerised solar hydrogen research project. This example shows that by cultivating partnerships within the energy sector, new technologies can emerge to replace conventional practices with a more sustainable outcome.

Innovation overview:

  • Rumah Bangau, Song, Sarawak: 20kWp off-grid containerised solar hydrogen system
  • Under development: Modular containerised solution, operation of hybrid energy storage system in different case scenario

System details:

  • Electrolyser type: AEM Electrolyser, Capacity: 2 x 500L/hr
  • Fuel Cell: PEM Fuel Cell with 2.5kW sizing
  • Inverter power: 20 kW
  • Super-capacitor sizing (Small energy storage system): 40kWh
  • Solar Panel sizing: 20kWp
  • Hydrogen storage sizing: 2 x 1000L and 2 x 500L

Meet the experts

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Jia-Sheen Sim

Jia-Sheen Sim

Renewable Energy, PESTECH Energy

Jia-Sheen has always been passionate about clean energy sources and green solutions to meet the increasing world energy demands. His focus is to limit the effects of climate change through the approach of sustainability and reduction of non-renewable solutions. He is involved end-to-end, from commercials to implementation of renewable and power electrical deployments locally and abroad. He enjoys exploring new and little-known technologies, paving way to efficiently manage energy.

Ronny Wong Hoe Gi

Ronny Wong Hoe Gi

R&D, Sarawak Energy

Ronny Wong is working with Sarawak Energy in Sarawak, Malaysia as Electrical Engineer and helping in developing off grid rural electrification projects using the solar with battery and solar with hydrogen technology. He has participated in various of off-grid solar project implemented in Sarawak. He is currently working on containerised solar hydrogen research project to seek for alternative solution for rural electrification.

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