Smart grid and renewable energy must support the agricultural sector, not destroy it

Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn

 

A smart grid is a digitally enabled electrical system that collects, distributes, and works with data on all electricity providers and consumers’ behaviour in order to enhance the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of power delivery.

 

Smart grids generate massive amounts of data, which may be examined using data analytics and with machine learning, converted into valuable insights. Weather conditions, demand and supply records, and location are all examples of data metrics. 

 

With this data, operators may make smarter judgments about the transfer of energy from one location to another, proactively ensuring supply and minimising waste.

 

Southeast Asia is definitely a rising smart grid industry that is making tremendous progress and offers big advantages for customers as well as significant potential for suppliers by the end of this decade. 

 

Countries in Southeast Asia are growing rapidly and extending their web of electrical grid to more communities. With more foreign capital inflow and a growing middle-class, it makes perfect sense for governments to build smart grid roadmaps with implementation strategies. 

 

Outside of China and India, Southeast Asia has the greatest expected GDP growth rate of any emerging smart grid market. These strong GDP growth rates, however, are not assured and might pose structural, political, and social difficulties to Southeast Asian countries.

 

According to Global Climate Scope, Southeast Asia would invest up to $14 billion by 2030 to achieve universal power access, with distant microgrid systems serving 75 percent of the off-grid population.

 

Already, there are significant hurdles to crafting policies to tackle connection costs, network costs, maintenance cost while ensuring a healthy amount of return of investments for investors, suppliers and operators. 

 

Actual construction is another set of obstacles as some of the Southeast Asian countries might have to cough up the manpower and expertise to undertake huge infrastructure projects to lay underwater cables between islands, provinces and states.  

 

In the roadmap of some Southeast Asian countries, the administration had planned for the smart grid to enable single proprietors and individual business owners to sell a small quantity of power generated by their own entrepreneurship to the grid via a smart meter.

 

This can potentially be another issue if the pricing is not done right and could impact the agriculture industry. 

 

Agriculture is critical to the economy’s survival and growth. It’s the foundation of everything that motivates humans to survive. It not only produces food and other basic resources, but also presents job opportunities. Yet in many countries, agricultural workers are leaving the sector. 

 

According to the Indonesian National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), their projections show a steady drop of agricultural workers. It revealed that in 1976, 65.8 percent of Indonesian employees were employed in the agriculture sector. 

 

However, in 2019, it fell dramatically to only 28%. Part of this reduction might be attributed to agricultural employees moving to other industries, particularly to the service sector. The service sector workers accounted for 23.57 percent in 1976 and 48.91 percent in 2019.

 

When farm owners are able to sell the power generated by their own renewable energy devices such as solar panels, windmill, etc to the grid, they might consider giving up farming entirely. These farm owners might find it financially feasible to install more renewable energy devices and sell the electricity instead of rearing animals, performing soil maintenance and taking care of agriculture produces. 

 

In other parts of the world, a growing number of farmers and ranchers are supplementing their income by capturing the wind that blows over their land and converting it into electricity. In addition, new renewable alternatives are becoming accessible.

 

NPR reported in the United States that farmers in the Midwest both support and oppose major solar generating ventures on farms. Some people make significantly more money leasing land than they do cultivating crops. Others are concerned about the loss of productive land.

 

Leaving the situation entirely to market forces, will have the farm owners to simply choose the option that yields the highest return, but this might further jeopardise the agriculture sector in years to come.

 

Renewable energy sources and smart grid must be able to support core sectors like agriculture, not destroy it. 

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