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Hybrid systems are flexible and balance out the disadvantages of one energy component with the strengths of another.

Hybrid into the future

Hybrid systems are a reliable means for supplying people in remote areas with energy: the combination of several energy sources allows for greater energy security.

Hybrid systems are like the daily special at a restaurant: there is not just an entrée on the plate, but a combination of meat, vegetables, and side dishes. Applied to the energy sector, that means not only one supplier—for example, photovoltaics—is used to provide energy. Hybrid systems unite what is available in each particular situation in terms of energy carriers. In southern countries, that means mainly sun and wind power. When sensible and available, added to that are also hydroelectric power and biomass, and if need be, conventional generators.
Hybrid systems are flexible and balance out the disadvantages of one energy component with the strengths of another. For example, a hybrid system would use sunlight by day and wind power at night, while generators—often pre-existing—are used when shortages occur. However, here, electricity is preferably not generated by diesel, but, for example, by Jatropha oil, a fuel produced from the nuts of the Jatropha plant that neither animals nor humans compete for. The toxicity of the seeds makes the oil inedible.
Among the major advantages of hybrid systems is the ability to seamlessly combine individual energy suppliers, so that an additional source can be accessed in times of increased demand. This process is controlled by corresponding intelligent software, which turns the separate components on or off depending on the demanded capacity, or, for example, channels surplus energy into batteries. Depending on the construction standard, capacity fluctuates between 3 and 60 kilowatts. To meet even higher demands, several facilities can be combined. Thanks to this combinability, hybrid systems are not only capable of being used for extremely diverse purposes, but are also reliable and efficient.
Hybrid systems are suitable for use mainly in remote regions without access to a network. Worldwide, 1.6 billion people are still waiting to be supplied with electricity. Such systems are just as suitable—in mobile versions—for crisis areas in which the energy supply has broken down.
Hybrid systems not only help people improve their incomes and thereby guard against land flight, they are also a convenient means to counteract further shortages of the raw material oil, and to fight against global warming and air pollution. Cost comparisons of hybrid systems and common energy generation show that higher investments for hybrid systems are balanced out after just a few years through their lower operating costs as compared with diesel generators. Hybrid systems thus have extremely great potential for development.

Christian Schmidt is a scientific journalist in Zurich.

Source: sun-connect 5 | April 2011 (p. 5)