Diesel Generators May Face Competition from Renewable Energy

Mobile solar panels are emerging as a substitute for diesel generators in remote locations. Mobile solar panel systems show great potential in military settings, disaster relief and remote work sites. However, many issues remain unsolved by mobile solar energy system manufacturers as large upfront investment, lower efficiency than rigid PV systems, weather and location influence the electricity production. The necessity for rather large, empty, shadow-less areas for deployment are further drawbacks to a smooth market share win.

Disaster relief and military are the most prominent target segments

Mobile solar panels technology is based on flexible PV solar panels and integrated lithium batteries. The system is easily transportable as it is mounted on a trailer and deployable in a couple of minutes. The system is independent and can operate in remote locations without any supply line. Consequently, it is an especially good solution for disaster relief and military, as well as companies requiring electricity in remote, constantly changing, locations.

Renovagen is the main company specialising in providing mobile solar energy solutions with flexible PV panels. Though this is a new idea, with PV elements’ price plummeting, other competitors are expected to join in soon. The company lists other markets, such as mining, oil and gas exploration, construction, events, and telecommunication, as its potential business targets. However, it is believed that mobile solar panels will be less successful in competing with diesel generators in these areas due to the deployment-specific issues of the former system.

Limitations of mobile solar system restricting smooth growth

The mobile flexible solar system for electricity generation off-grid is rather a new solution. Besides the conservative attitudes of potential buyers and their reserved position in relation to renewable energy, some limitations to mobile solar energy system demand remain. The main drawbacks of the system are large upfront investment in comparison to diesel generators, and lower efficiency in comparison to rigid PV systems (higher rigid PV elements efficiency and better positioning to the sun). However, if the mobile solar system is used regularly and mobility is required, mobile solar panels will save money in the long-term in comparison to diesel generators, and time in terms of how long it takes to deploy the system in comparison to rigid PV elements.

Major considerations for companies choosing between diesel generators and mobile solar systems will centre on the weather, and winter season in northern regions will be most challenging. It is no secret that cloudy weather and extremely short days in winter limits the use of mobile solar systems. The lack of daylight can be compensated by increased electricity generation capacity, but it increases prices even further, making the system uncompetitive in comparison to diesel generators.

The mobile solar panel system will also have limited application capacity in urban territories, like construction sites. The required open and shadow-less plot on which to locate the system is not always available. The mobile solar system is also not a viable choice for reserved generation capacity in case of network failure e.g. hospitals. The system is beneficial to the user if it is used regularly, otherwise any investment will never pay-off. Deployment of flexible PV modules would be difficult and an improper choice for reserved energy generation, therefore mobile solar energy systems can only partially substitute diesel generators.