Electricity + Control

By Seydou Kane, Managing Director for Africa, Eaton

The so-called energy revolution and its predicted effect on the way people live has already started in Africa, and will continue to gain momentum.

Energy revolution in AfricaNever before has it been more critical to facilitate access to energy for less developed communities and nations across the continent than right now. Universal access to sustainable energy will trigger a virtual circle of development. Without electricity, there can be no further development.

The greatest impediment to the energy revolution in Africa is not investment, but rather the ability to create an enabling environment and reliable execution capabilities for all markets across the continent.

Although the 2025 projections forecast that we will see a reduction in coal power and hydropower, and an increase in renewable as part of the overall energy mix, what is very clear is that the utility model is here to stay.

One of the greatest contributors to the energy revolution is that of disruptive technologies, which allow for the quick rollout of integrated micro-grid energy solutions. Another trend coming to the fore is the shift from the distribution of centralised capabilities and resources to distributed capabilities and resources that are produced and accessed locally. The impact will be especially significant in developing countries across the continent where electricity networks are fragmented, posing a serious impediment to investment and modernisation.

Key discussions at the 17th annual African Utility Week have certainly centered on the role of power generation and the role of micro-grids and off-grid solutions in helping to provide access to energy for rural communities. It’s an appropriate topic considering that energy access in Africa is currently only at 24 percent, with the vast majority of the one billion plus population of Africa unserved through traditional grid access.

Micro-grid energy systems help assure electrical energy surety independent of the utility grid availability or help provide demand and load management. To accomplish this, a combination of multiple generation sources, including generators, solar, wind and energy storage can be integrated on a common grid structure with necessary loads seamlessly isolated from or paralleled with the main grid.

Similarly, energy storage has a crucial role to play in facilitating the integration of renewable energy. With the rise of renewables, the complementary deployment of energy storage is a trend set to continue into 2017 and beyond. Power storage could provide Africa with the most cost-effective and energy efficient off-grid electricity generation solution for at least the next decade.

The technology continues to prove its value to grid operators around the world with the realisation over the past decades that the traditional, centralised grid cannot or will not cost-effectively provide even basic electrical service to underserved populations in a reasonable amount of time.

Energy storage has become a key factor in helping countries manage both grid stability, as renewable energy sources continue to be integrated into the grid, as well as peak demand, limiting the need to build dedicated peaking power plants and minimising CO2 emissions. The energy storage market is now entering a new growth phase as off-grid solutions are aggressively sought across the continent; the opportunities are numerous.

To quote the European Commission VP in charge of the Energy Union, Maroš ŠefČoviČ: “The role and importance of storage have been underestimated for too long.”

The main challenge over the next 20 years is to provide energy services for one billion additional people and I believe we are up to the challenge.

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