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Emergency Energy Supply Unit | KERA Charity

Using energy storage to help climate change victims and stop modern slavery

This unique project involved the development, prototyping and first installation of StorTera’s Emergency Energy Storage Unit (EESU), a battery backpack developed to support disaster relief efforts in countries affected by climate change. The EESU prototype is a 5kW/5kWh system comprised of two 20 litre backpacks weighing approximately 25kg each. It was developed under an Innovate UK funded project that concluded in March 2018.

The EESU is an innovative, easily deployable energy storage system with a modular design enabling it to be transported on foot. This is often the only way to reach locations affected by major flood disasters which are all too common in countries such as Sri Lanka. In 2016, hazard-related disasters affected more than 445 million people globally and preliminary data indicates that another 80 million were affected by 149 disasters in 73 countries in the first quarter of 2017 (EM-DAT 2017).

Each year hundreds of people die in Sri Lanka due to climate change related disasters and millions of people are displaced forcing them to live in temporary shelters. In May 2016 200 lives were lost in a single day and over one million people were displaced due to hurricane Ronu which swept across the country; most of the deaths were reported from the plantation sector who live in line houses built on mountain slopes prone to land slides. Over 50 deaths were reported after this disaster because people in temporary relief camps didn’t have electricity to have boiling water, refrigeration for essential medicine and other necessary facilities.

Sri Lankan plantation workers

Flood relief efforts in May 2017

To complete this trial project StorTera formed a consortium with KERA-charity, a Sri Lanka based non-profit aid organisation, to install the first solar powered EESU to support disaster relief in the local area and, when not being used in emergency situations, to provide evening and night-time power to the charity’s educational facility. A 12kWp solar array was installed on the roof of the off-grid building in Kurunegala and the pilot 5kW/5kWh EESU was connected using a GridVerter™, StorTera’s highly functional and economical on and off-grid hybrid inverter technology.

The installation allows the charity to use their solar generation to power second-hand laptops that are used to educate local plantation workers in the evenings. It also keeps the EESU charged and ready for deployment in disaster relief operations. KERA has used the systems numerous times to support victims of these events, most recently in May 2018 when flooding affected 130,000 people in 20 districts with over 13,000 families evacuated to 231 welfare centres due to flood and landslide risks in 10 districts.

The prototype EESU handover to Kera-Charity

EESU powering laptops in Kera-charity's educational facility

Kera-charity and its network understand that the two EESU battery storage systems developed under this project and now used daily in their educational facility will not be sufficient alone to make a significant impact during a disaster situation. As a long term solution, they have committed themselves to convince local telecommunication tower operators (mostly mobile phone operators) and renewable energy developers of the benefits of the StorTera EESU could bring to these natural disaster prone regions.

StorTera is now working with major telecom companies in Sri Lanka to establish a network of EESUs, stored and powered at existing telecoms towers, that can be called upon in times of need. A significant portion of the telecom operators in developing countries use diesel-battery hybrid systems, with limited additions of renewable energy powered systems, due to grid problems or because of unavailability of grid. Current back up storage relies on outdated lead-acid technology for redundancy and present battery systems get replaced every 2 to 4 years. The goal is to replace or supplement existing back-up systems at these telecoms towers with new battery technology whilst also integrating a number of EESU units into each tower’s system. The network providers and tower operators will install and maintain the units, and most importantly ensure the EESUs are always charged and ready for immediate deployment in times of need. A shared ownership model between the telecoms companies and local charities is being developed which it hoped will expedite this wider deployment.

The benefits of this project are hugely significant – educating and empowering local plantation workers can help bring an end to what is essentially modern slavery, giving them a better quality of life and the ability to improve their working conditions. Supporting victims of disaster relief is a growing need across the world and the EESU makes bringing power to difficult to access locations possible – potentially making the difference in life or death situations.