“There is tremendous opportunity to build out the energy system in Africa using the best tools in our tool chest, which now include energy storage as a key resource.”

Igbokwe is the Sales Engineer for the Middle East and Africa region at NEC Energy Solutions and a featured speaker at Energy Revolution Africa during African Utility Week in Cape Town in May.

Will you please start with a short introduction to yourself and your company?
I am leading Energy Storage development work for NEC Energy Solutions with a regional focus of Africa and the Middle East.

NEC Energy Solutions is a subsidiary of NEC Corporation and a leader in the stationary energy storage market with over 250 MW of grid-scale energy storage installed, deployed, under construction, or in late stages of development. We’ve completed a multitude of projects for a variety of utilities, power producers, and commercial and industrial companies around the world since 2008, most of which are operating in commercial revenue service. We have local offices as part of NEC Africa in Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi and others; while the global energy storage headquarters is located in the USA.

What most invigorates you about the work you do?
My “why” is to be instrumental in solving the electrical power infrastructure challenges in the African continent. Working for NEC Energy Solutions gives me the opportunity to engage directly with electric power companies, utilities and developers to create innovative solutions for power challenges. With the recent reduction in Lithium Ion batteries prices, we are able to introduce new ways to solve old problems such as transmission and distribution upgrade deferral; frequency regulation and integration of renewables at a cost competitive rate.

In your opinion, what do you think the biggest challenge is facing the global renewable energy sector?
The integration of intermittent renewables like PV or wind is typically not an issue in small amounts, but as the percentage of electricity derived from these variable resources increases, the ability to integrate all that renewable energy becomes more challenging. In many ways, the grid needs to be prepared to accept a shift from on-demand thermal generation to variable generation. Energy storage is one of the resources that can integrate renewables very effectively and compensate for the variability in sun and wind.

What do you think the biggest renewable energy challenge is in Africa?
In addition to the answer above; cost of capital: unlike other forms of power generation, renewables have relatively low operational costs and very high capital costs. This means that to make renewables competitive, the cost of capital (i.e. interest rate) must be low. Traditionally, cost of capital in the African region has been higher than others.

In Africa how do you see effective energy storage supporting grid strengthening?
Energy storage has already been quite effective in increasing the reliability and resiliency of grids around the world, whether in high penetration renewable environments like Hawaii, to very large stable well-interconnected grids like central Europe. First and foremost, it is the ability for fast responding energy storage to provide ancillary services, balancing services like frequency response, capacity reserve, or frequency regulation. With this can come additional benefits from existing generation sites. With the obligation to provide primary and secondary reserve being met by energy storage, the existing generation sites can free up its reserve capacity to help meet the electricity needs of the population served, without needing to install brand new generation.

In those areas where renewable generation is beginning to be deployed, the ability to manage grid frequency can also become more challenging, and this is another area where energy storage can strengthen and prepare the grid for a more variable generation fleet.

For countries in Africa, what this means to me is that energy storage can provide support to existing generation and transmission infrastructure, and also help introduce renewables and avoid inefficiencies in integrating them. Storage can help us extract all the value from existing and new resources, avoiding things like curtailment or inefficient operations of thermal generation, and create a more resilient power system while cleaning it up at the same time.

What are some of the more pioneering technologies coming out of the energy storage industry?
Energy storage for the grid has begun to adopt lithium ion battery technology as the mainstream technology for storing electricity. With its diverse markets ranging from portable electronics like smartphones or laptop computers, to ever increasing usage in the automotive world for hybrid and full electric vehicles, it has benefited from economies of scale and today represents the most effective core technology that powers the large grid energy storage installations that have more recently been installed around the world. Within the battery field however there are many different chemistries being contemplated, all of which promise to improve on energy density, safety, durability, or power capability. We are continually monitoring these advances in the field, and are working with some of these companies to take advantage of these technologies when they mature.

Energy storage has been listed as one of the biggest renewable energy trends to look out for in 2017. Do you agree?
I totally agree with this. The challenge has been that energy storage is a bit enigmatic – is it generation, is it transmission, is it a load? In fact, it can serve in all of these applications, acting like a generator by discharging its energy, acting like a load when charging, or acting like transmission by supporting the movement of electricity over time and offloading peak hours of the day. As such, markets around the world have yet to fully adapt to such a versatile resource, and compensate that resource for all the benefits it can bring to the multiple stakeholders that make up any given electricity supply system or grid.

In the US, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued an order that asks all of the system operators to closely inspect their wholesale electricity markets and rules for barriers to versatile resources like energy storage, and remove them. In the UK, the advent of what’s called ‘enhanced frequency response’ was predicated on the need for the evolution of the grid there to accommodate drastic changes stemming from decarbonisation of their network. These policies and markets have, over time, developed an arcane system of rules and regulations, built around decades-old technology, and policymakers had to work around all the “dead wood” so to speak. As a result, it has been difficult to realize the true value of energy storage. There is still much work to be done.

How does this impact energy solutions needed in Africa?
I think Africa can learn from this and potentially skip over a lot of the dead wood as its networks have not been built out as extensively as other parts of the world.

How are you feeling about the upcoming Energy Revolution Africa?
I feel there is tremendous opportunity to build out the energy system in Africa using the best tools in our tool chest, which now include energy storage as a key resource.

What are you most looking forward to?
I am looking forward to engaging with other attendees to share ideas about the future of energy in the African continent.

What will your message be to people attending/ considering attending this event?
This event will be a rare opportunity to connect with other professionals in the Utilities industry who are focused on the African region!

Is there anything you would like to add?
NEC Energy Solutions has helped many organizations, from utilities to system operators to energy regulators, to understand the value of energy storage technology, how it would impact their electricity networks, and the possibilities of energy storage in their particular situation. I’d like to invite them to contact us, or just visit our website to download some information, to learn more.