An off-grid solar-plus-storage setup is helping prevent villagers in a remote part of Myanmar from suffering one of the most painful deaths imaginable.
Every year around 300 people in the country die from snake bites, with Russell’s viper, Daboia russelii, being one of the main culprits. The Russell’s viper, which grows to more than five feet in length, is one of the world’s deadliest snakes, with bite victims experiencing a mortality rate of up to 92 percent.
Victims can start showing signs of poisoning with 15 minutes and may begin bleeding from the gums within 20 minutes. The heart falters. Up to 30 percent of those bitten suffer kidney failure, and death can occur up to a fortnight after the attack — but usually occurs within six to eight hours.
Other poisonous snakes in Myanmar include the spitting cobra and the banded krait. According to World Health Organization figures from 2014, around 15,000 people get bitten every year. The country has a snake bite mortality rate double the world average.
Bringing that mortality rate down relies on administering the correct antivenin for each bite, as quickly as possible.
But while Myanmar’s health system has been working hard to increase the amount of antivenin it stocks, it still faces a major problem in rural regions where there is no electricity, since the antidote needs to be kept at temperatures under 25º C.
As a result, snake bite fatalities have historically remained high in villages such as Yin Ma Chaung, in the Magway Region of Myanmar.
A nine-hour drive from Myanmar’s former capital Yangon, the 140 households that make up Yin Ma Chaung are deep in snake country. Until recently, they were far from the nearest antivenin source.
In a video posted by Panasonic, villager San E recounts how three members of his family, including his daughter, suffered snake bites. On the most tragic occasion, “The snake serum didn’t get here in time, so my daughter didn’t make it,” he said. “I still feel angry sometimes.”
In 2011, a no-profit called the Mae Fah Luang Foundation (MFL Foundation), funded by the Kingdom of Thailand, began talking to villagers in Yin Ma Chaung and 28 other nearby villages about solving the snakebite problem.
As a result, says Panasonic: “Health workers from the MFL Foundation stationed in eight villages in the region built simple coolers powered by solar power. But the devices are prone to frequent malfunction, so the workers could never be fully confident in them.”
This year the foundation overcame the problem with a Panasonic Power Supply Station equipped with 2.82 kilowatts of solar power and 17.2 kilowatt-hours of energy storage from twenty-four 12-volt lead-acid batteries.
The power supply station, installed with help from Matsui, powers an antivenin fridge, runs a community center, and provides rudimentary street lighting so villagers can move around Yin Ma Chaung at night without fear of treading on snakes.
In the community center, “a television and a fan have been set up, and study sessions and sutra sessions are now offered for children there,” said Yurie Sato of Eco Networks, a Japanese sustainability network working with Panasonic.
There are currently no moves to extend the concept to other villages, but Panasonic “plans to continue providing products, including Power Supply Stations, to help solve the various social issues faced by people living in areas without electricity,” she told GTM.
In a press note, Panasonic said 68 percent of households in Myanmar were off the grid. This level soars to 84 percent in rural areas. Distributed renewable generation is only just beginning to take off in the country, although grid-scale solar is expanding rapidly.
In other developing regions, meanwhile, there is growing interest in renewable energy and storage for off-grid electrification and healthcare provision.
Earlier this year, for example, Scottsdale, Arizona-based Fluidic Energy announced a deal to provide renewable energy mini-grid technology to 100 villages and 400,000 people in Madagascar.
And last month, Dulas, a Welsh renewable energy technology company, confirmed it was sending 345 solar-powered direct-drive fridges to help with vaccination efforts in Yemen, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
Jason is the director of Jason Deign Associates, a Barcelona-based copywriting and editorial services agency and a regular contributor to a range of energy industry publications