Exclusive interview with Phil Dingle, Marketing Director, Lucy Electric, who are the platinum sponsors for the upcoming East African Power Industry Convention in Nairobi in September.
1. Let’s start with some background about Lucy Electric – there is a proud history there.
Lucy Electric has existed as a business for over 200 years and has more than 100 years’ experience in the electrical industry. We’re experts in secondary distribution solutions, enabling the safe and efficient distribution of electricity to homes and businesses across Africa.
Our experienced engineers work at the forefront of design and implementation for automation projects, from concept to deployment, and we use our engineering excellence to design and manufacture bespoke and best in class switchgear products and services.
We provide a complete range of switching and protection solutions for both underground and overhead line networks. Our range of medium voltage switchgear includes SF6 gas and oil insulated ring main units (transformer or ground mounted); pole or structure mounted air break disconnectors; and air or gas load break switches.
Our long history means we understand the challenges our customers face now and in the future and we work in partnership with them to provide tailored solutions which continue to add value, and make it easier for them to manage their network distribution, reliably, economically and sustainably.
2. What products and services by Lucy Electric are you most excited about at the moment?
An exciting development for us this year is the extension of our solutions into low voltage monitoring via the GridKey range. A world leading, low voltage (LV) continuous monitoring system, GridKey measures, communicates and stores real-time data and through a suite of analysis tools translates this into actionable information. Using the information, distribution network operators are able to plan to maximise their assets, diagnose and solve problems more quickly, and reduce capital and operational costs.
We have also launched our latest generation Gemini 3 remote terminal units this year, which provide customers with a highly flexible platform for advanced feeder automation. The unique modular design of the Gemini 3 allows scalability to be built into network automation projects, as individual modules can be added or upgraded without the need to recalibrate, allowing customers to evolve the network to meet future needs.
Linked to our Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, the RTUs allow customers to remotely manage their network. Through the SCADA system customers can access real-time on-line data, network information and modelling – everything they need to actively manage the network and address future challenges.
3. Any particular projects/success stories that you are involved in in the East African region that you can share with us?
Network automation projects are the key focus for utilities in East Africa and we are currently working with Kenya Power on an ongoing project to automate the network in the Mombasa region.
To date, an end to end distribution automation system (DAS), covering the medium voltage network across 1,661 square kilometres, has been installed. KPLC are already seeing significant benefits with average fault response time reduced from 1 -2 hours to just 30 seconds and customer minutes offline reduced from between 1 – 2 hours to less than 20 seconds. Phase two of the project is ongoing, extending the automation of the network to the remaining areas of the coast region and is expected to be finished before the end of the year.
We are also working with UMEME on a project to automate the overhead network in Kampala and the surrounding area. The project will focus on optimisation of the network to improve quality of supply and will enable UMEME to better manage generation shortfalls, improve fault resolution and allow reconfiguration of the network to ensure essential services are maintained during any power outages. The project is currently in its final stages with the potential to be extended on both the overhead and to the underground network.
We have also recently completed a similar project for ECG in Ghana, automating almost 50,000 kms of distribution lines, increasing network resilience, improving supply quality and delivering almost instant fault identification: and a project for the eThekwini Municipality in Durban, South Africa to automate the medium voltage network.
4. How excited are you about the opportunities in this region?
Across the East Africa region there is great potential for high volumes of photovoltaic, wind or geothermal energy generation, depending upon the location. Amongst investors there is an increasing appetite for such projects, which present a smaller risk, with a much quicker and quantifiable payback. As a result we are seeing increasing investment in renewable energy sources.
This is a very exciting time for the electricity sector across East Africa and at Lucy Electric we hope to play a key part in helping to make this a reality. Lucy Electric’s switchgear range comes into effect when low carbon technologies head towards 1MW and upwards or where there is a need for local microgrid interconnections or connections to the main grid – and we expect to see rising demand for these products in the future.
5. In your view what are the main challenges in the energy sector?
Without a doubt the biggest challenges facing the energy sector across Africa are reliable access to electricity and the shortfall in energy generation. Demand for electricity for both business and domestic use is rising as a result of population growth, urbanisation and sustained economic development.
There is a growing recognition among many organisations that renewable sources can play a major part in addressing the shortfall at grass roots level. Smaller, local PV and other low carbon schemes allow communities rapid access to electricity (installation can take less than a year in contrast with major infrastructure development which may take up to eight years) and we anticipate major growth in these installations across rural Africa in the future.
However, this growth in distributed energy sources presents a number of challenges in terms of grid management. Establishing a stable, reliable and high performance electrical distribution network is vital if utilities are to meet growing residential and business needs, while powering new industrial development. As a result we are seeing an increasing number of companies investing in automation and smart grid projects to help realise efficiencies across the network, improve network capacity and quality of supply and help futureproof the infrastructure.
6. What is your vision for this sector?
The East African region presents a stable political and economic environment which is very attractive to investors. Forward-looking governments in the region are proactively developing infrastructure for the future and we anticipate continued investment in the short and medium term.
This presents great opportunities for utilities to future-proof networks, moving away from traditional design models towards more active network management to take into account the challenges presented by the growth of distributed energy resources.
Active networks have different dynamics from traditional passive networks presenting management challenges to the operator that require different information, planning and management processes to ensure quality of supply is maintained. Utilities in the region have the opportunity to leapfrog over the challenges faced by mature networks and ensure the infrastructure being developed today can meet the challenges of the future.
It is also clear that the commercial supply model in the electricity industry will need to change. The traditional model is becoming disrupted as local generation sources and microgrid interconnections to the grid change the way local communities consume electricity.
Many organisations are already starting to explore what alternative commercial models may look like in the future and this is set to change the landscape of the market significantly. Any solution needs to provide a more flexible model and must involve regulatory bodies. We believe that utilities and municipalities need to engage with the regulator in their market to develop this new model.
7. You have been a regular partner of EAPIC for many years, why do you keep supporting this event?
We have been attending EAPIC for many years as it presents the perfect opportunity to showcase our products, services and leading expertise to one of our key growth markets.
Last year we had great engagement with new and existing customers and identified more opportunities where we can truly add value across distribution networks in Africa.
8. What will be your message at EAPIC this year?
We are looking forward to demonstrating our expertise in secondary distribution networks with a particular focus on our automation product range which has been designed to deliver enhanced network intelligence for our customers, the highest levels of operational efficiency and facilitate easy flexible upgrades to meet our customers’ changing needs.
Our experienced engineers will be on hand to provide information about our retrofit solutions, latest generation, automation-ready ring main units, remote terminal units, SCADA, distribution management and LV monitoring systems, for both underground and overhead networks.
The products on show will include our SCADA system and new generation of Gemini 3 RTUs; GridKey, our award-winning low voltage monitoring system; our Sabre RMUs and Rapier GX load-break switch; plus some of our high quality, low voltage products.