PV developer First Solar and construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar have announced a strategic alliance to develop integrated solar technologies for the microgrid for use in remote communities and mine sites.

First Solar will design and manufacture a turnkey package for remote microgrid applications. This will include Cat-branded solar panels manufactured by First Solar.

Caterpillar will sell the solar products and plans to market the new microgrid solution in the Asia Pacific, Africa, and Latin America regions first, with availability for customers in the second half of this year.

Microgrids give value to prime power diesel and gas customers by integrating renewable energy, such as solar power, with generator sets.

Marc van Gerven, First Solar's vice president for global marketing, said: "This strategic alliance provides yet more evidence of a global energy transition, where solar energy's reliability and cost competitiveness with traditional fuels effectively allows it to complement conventional generation.

“We're establishing an important new precedent for the commercialization and scaling of microgrid-based distributed generation solutions."

Meanwhile, microgrid technology venture Powerhive, which is financially backed by First Solar, earlier this week announced the completion of over two years of field testing of its portfolio of off-grid metering and control solutions for rural regions.

Powerhive pioneered the delivery of locally generated energy in Kenya's Kisii province, where over 90% percent of the population does not have access to electricity.

The company plans to expand its coverage to over 200,000 households in Kenya.

Under its pilot programme, customers were able to pre-purchase electricity for commercial and residential use through mobile banking services.

Powerhive’s portfolio includes the Honeycomb cloud-based remote monitoring and control platform, the Asali smart meter and the Site Wizard for Analysis, Reconnaissance, and Mapping (SWARM) project development tool.

Four pilot deployments were operational during the two-year field tests, with a total generation capacity of 80kW and serving four rural villages, benefitting over 1,500 people. Users included residents and small businesses deploying services that were previously unavailable such as maize milling, welding, incubating chickens, and hair salons.

First Solar made an investment of undisclosed value in Powerhive in 2013. The solar developer offers expertise in scaling deployment, technology and commercial development.

Powerhive chief executive Christopher Hornor said: “Powerhive's technology and data-driven approach to microgrid development and operations will enable the formation of a new asset class. It will enable us to cost-effectively reach tens of millions of people in rural villages unserved by grids while offering strong risk-weighted returns to investors.

"We have uniquely combined the most cost efficient methods for billing, operations, customer service, and development at scale while respecting the local customs within the areas where we operate."

Globally, more than 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity and billions more need access to a reliable grid, according to Caterpillar.

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