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Benin: Solar minigrids getting digitalisation boost

The US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) has announced grant funding for technical assistance to help Sherlock Grids SAS expand and improve clean energy access in rural communities in Benin.

Sherlock Grids SAS is a special purpose vehicle created in Benin by minigrid operator Power:On and France-based independent power producer Akuo.

Enoh T Ebong, USTDA acting director, said the project embodies their commitment to deploying innovative solutions that connect more of Africa’s citizens to clean, reliable power. “By leveraging US technologies, USTDA’s engagement will help mitigate the climate crises while supporting Benin’s goal of universal electrification through solar power.”

Sherlock Grids will work with Washington, DC-based technology provider SparkMeter to analyse the feasibility of bring solar-powered minigrids online for thousands in Benin.

The project should demonstrate the benefits of implementing a digitalised system to fully integrate and remotely manage multiple minigrids. The system will consist of smart meters, digital models of the minigrid and their distribution networks and software for real-time outage management, asset management and planning.

Dan Schnitzer, SparkMeter CEO said by digitising a minigrid from its inception, utilities can more easily incorporate grid analytics into regular operations. “Utilities can then consistently measure, visualise and remotely operate their system that will displace charcoal cook stoves, kerosene lamps and diesel generators with clean, renewable energy.

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“Grid edge technologies are a powerful but under-utilised tool in the emerging markets. By developing a grid analytics platform for Sherlock Grids, the utility can provide its end users with reliable power and ensure financial sustainability for the project. We’re confident that USTDA’s forward-thinking investment in utility digitalisation in Benin and through the region is a prelude to large-scale investment within the minigrid sector,” said Schnitzer.

The project aims to improve the operation of dozends of minigrids and is expected to conclude in June 2022.

Tristan Kochoyan, Power:On CEO pointed out households in West Africa spend up to 30% of their income to access basic fossil-fuel energy services such as kerosene or candles. “Our work with SparkMeter and USTDA will help us to dramatically reduce the use of fossil fuels in our territory through improved management of electricity distribution and payments from customers on our grid.”

David Riposo, Power Africa energy access officer, also commented: “Digital technologies can unlock energy access and economic opportunity for the 2.1 billion people without reliable electricity. Digital tools like SparkMeter’s can drive resilient, decarbonised grids at all scales while making diesel generators obsolete.”  

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a conference producer for Clarion Events Africa.