Efficiency for Access Interoperability & Compatibility Roadmap to Drive Off-Grid Solar Products Toward Maturity
Efficiency for Access recently published a technology roadmap focusing on interoperability and compatibility, both strong enabling technologies for the off-grid industry. Compatibility and interoperability, which refer to the ability of systems and components to work together in the same environment, including the exchange of information, are key features of mature markets for a variety of technologies around the world. While most off-grid companies are not focused on these topics today, they will become increasingly important as the market matures.
A key challenge to growth in any early stage market is commoditization. Custom solutions work well when companies have markets to themselves, but when markets grow, custom solutions become a barrier to market efficiency. Limiting consumer choice to custom products may make sense from a particular system provider’s perspective, but incompatibility between systems locks consumers into a product regardless of its merits relative to the competition, discouraging market growth.
This roadmap may act as a first step towards defining the requirements for a mature off-grid industry. The roadmap recommends that the off-grid industry should identify companies willing to lead and/or participate in working groups focused on:
- Defining uniform requirements for electrical connectivity
- Deciding on approaches to connectivity in support of load management in SHSs, which might be accomplished though industry consensus but might also lead to specifying R&D activities to improve the available options
- Informing and supporting the R&D activities specified below
The roadmap also makes recommendations for related research and development activities, including:
- Development of power distribution connectivity interfaces and protocols to support load management in solar home systems, depending on industry consensus around whether such R&D is necessary
- Development of power distribution connectivity interfaces and protocols to support the ability of SHS controllers to interface with other SHS systems, DC minigrids, or AC minigrids
- Development of general data connectivity and communications interfaces and protocols for remote monitoring of systems and appliances
- Development of interfaces and protocols for an interoperable PAYG solution for controllers and appliances
The roadmapping process often exposes the tension between cooperation and competitiveness. To have a larger impact on the market, off-grid companies must be willing to cooperate on a pre-competitive basis, working together to identify common customer needs and technology strategies. This roadmap outlines important junctures for sector collaboration and consensus that, if achieved, can push many nascent technologies toward maturity.