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Friday, April 19, 2024

Powering Remote Medical Services with Renewable Energy

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For people living in the remote village of Long Loyang as well as 15 other remote settlements along Sg Tinjar, Long Loyang Health Clinic is the nearest they can go to for any basic medical need.

Located at 183km south of Miri City, reaching there involves travelling for hours by driving a four-wheel drive on metalled roads and logging trails, and/or taking a boat ride down the river.

Long Loyang Health Clinic. Photo by marcus woon

These modes of transport can become less accessible during the rainy season, which can be extremely challenging for periodic maintenance of diesel generators in this area.

For many years, however, this generator has been the ‘lifeline’ of the clinic, even if it meant ensuring the operation of its only source of electricity during specific hours of the day while at risk of losing power either due to an empty fuel tank or a breakdown.

This is because it depended on diesel power for its lights and vital medical equipment including refrigeration (for vaccines, medicines, etc.) and defibrillators – just so it could provide essential medical services to the local population of over 2,000.

The successful application of the hybrid solar-hydrogen generation system has the potential of further supporting Sarawak’s rural electrification endeavour. Photo from Sarawak Energy

In July 2020, the Ministry of Health Malaysia and the Ministry of Utilities Sarawak (now Ministry of Utilities and Telecommunication Sarawak) embarked on a pioneering project to serve the electricity needs of Long Loyang Health Clinic through a more accessible and sustainable method.

Particularly, the initiative that was completed in April 2022 aimed to ensure round-the-clock energy supply through a solar-powered hydrogen generation system – the first of its kind in Malaysia and in line with Sarawak’s aspiration for socio-economic advancement through sustainability.

The hybrid system called H2Energy (H2E) is an electrification solution by Malaysia-based renewable energy service provider H2 Energy Sdn Bhd (H2 Energy), and is designed “to provide sustainable and uninterrupted power to rural communities… and can be deployed in even the remotest of location.”

Key features of H2E. Image from https://www.htenergy.co/

It produces hydrogen fuel via electrolysis that in turn generates electricity through the system’s fuel cell in the absence of solar energy, which is highly applicable to off-grid locations across Sarawak.

Now installed and running at the clinic, H2E supplies between 25 to 30kW a day, a similar average energy demand stored to that of the previous diesel generator.

However, unlike its less eco-friendly counterpart, the solar-hydrogen system is capable of providing 24-hour electricity to power up the health facility during both operating and non-operating hours.

Furthermore, H2E is devised as a “modular, compact and highly mobile” system, which makes it portable and customisable or scalable to meet energy demands of different remote settlements, facilities and even work sites.

Key benefits of H2E. Image extracted from brochure obtained from https://www.htenergy.co/

This means that with uninterrupted electricity, Long Loyang Health Clinic can serve local communities in the area far more effectively and efficiently than ever before.

H2 Energy also estimates that the clinic can prevent 13 to 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the air through H2E, compared with a diesel generator.

Minister for Utilities and Telecommunication YB Datuk Haji Julaihi Haji Narawi (front, centre) during the official launch of H2E at Long Loyang in early August 2022. Photo from UKAS

For the Sarawak Government, the hybrid system could lead to more opportunities in renewable energy applications in rural electricity generation, more so in powering crucial facilities such as other health clinics and schools in remote Sarawak.

“We don’t want anyone to be left out. The last mile connection is always on-going in the field out there as 100 per cent coverage is difficult due population growth in the respective areas, (and) more longhouses or settlements coming up due to new road accessibility,” said Minister for Utilities and Telecommunication YB Datuk Haji Julaihi Haji Narawi during the official launch of H2E at Long Loyang in early August 2022.

H2E system diagram. Image from https://www.htenergy.co/

How does H2E work?

H2E works differently during the day and at night:

  • Daytime: A component of H2E called the electrolyser produces hydrogen via the electrolysis of water, during daytimes when the renewable energy production is in excess. Energy harvested is stored as hydrogen gas.
  • Nighttime: Hydrogen is drawn from the gas tank to feed into the fuel cell of the system, where it combines hydrogen and oxygen (from the atmosphere) to produce electricity.

H2E is aided by a Software Defined Energy Management System (SDEMS) to monitor, manage and optimise the system’s renewable energy generation, transmission and storage.

Source: https://www.htenergy.co/

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