Planes, submarines, velcro and cat’s eyes – nature is an endless source of inspiration for the world’s inventors. The field of energy might seem too complicated for such analogies, but for one electrical engineer, it was a school of fish that inspired his original solar energy design.
They look more like red Lego blocks – and stack up like them too – but ‘Power-Blox’ work in the same way as a shoal, co-founder Alessandro Medici tells Euronews Green. Just as fish can grow, split and re-group, the blocks’ batteries combine to create an ‘energy swarm’.
They are essentially ‘energy cubes’, with batteries powered by portable solar panels. One of these solar boxes can meet most of a home’s electrical needs and is easily plugged into another box to generate more energy for a community.
This is a more flexible system than mini-grids, and the technology has huge potential in some of the world’s poorest and most remote places. The Swiss company has distributed some 2,000 power blocks in around 20 countries since 2018 and is now on the verge of releasing an even more powerful device.
All these are done with a key UN sustainable development goal in mind; providing affordable, clean energy for all by 2030. 10 percent of people, mostly in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, still lack access to electricity, according to the World Bank.
Simplifying that challenge is a driving force for Medici, who is also the firm’s chief technology officer. “We need a kind of internet of energy,” he said, recalling the early, centralised days of computers before the web connected us.
“We have to integrate energy systems, we have to make them individually, we have to make the possibility to combine them and scale them up, [so they still work] even if there is a breakdown in part of the grid.”
The beauty of Power-Blox technology is that it can easily expand as a community’s energy needs grow, just by plugging in more blocks and solar units. In fact, it can run off wind or hydropower too, making it perfectly adaptable to different climates around the world.
Partnering with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other aid organisations, Power-Blox has brought its energy storage solution to dozens of communities so far.
In one recently electrified Mozambique village, people have used the energy to start selling items from cold drinks to fridges and offer customers mobile charging stations.
“The whole village somehow developed, you even could see that from space,” says Medici. “It’s the same on the ground. It’s not only power, it’s also the power that animates people to do something because they can start various kinds of business.”