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The following is an extract from the Investment & Impact Report published in advance of the Africa Energy Forum 2020. Clément Faure, Head of Business Development, Mining and Hybrids at Total Eren, explains why hybrid solutions are at the core of tomorrow’s sustainable energy sector.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Issue 3-2020.
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Over the past decade, renewable energy technologies have become more competitive everywhere in the world. Africa is no different, with tremendous solar and wind resources, and an extensive need for additional generation capacities – not only in remote off-grid areas but also on its supranational and national grids. In this context, hybrid energy solutions combining renewables with energy storage appear to be an adequate way to harvest and optimise the continent’s energy potential.

What are the pros and cons of bigger projects vs. smaller operations?

There is no clear answer to this question as it always boils down to pre-existing conditions. Hybrid energy solutions for rural electrification are somewhat expensive but the alternative is no power at all for the local communities. On the other hand, when you can leverage robust grid infrastructures, you can deliver very competitive energy from large scale solar or wind plants, but you rely on the availability of the grid over time. Behind-the-meter projects offer more certainty in that regard, but not all the scale benefits.

At the lower end of the capacity spectrum, with our partner Winch Energy, we have deployed hybrid energy solutions in Mauritania, Benin, Togo, Sierra Leone and Uganda. In Burkina Faso, we financed, built and now operate a 15MW hybrid PV-HFO plant at the Essakane gold mine, the largest unsubsidised solar project brought into operation at an off-grid mining site to date, and a landmark project that we are actively replicating, not only for other mines but also for industrials and islanded grids.

On the higher side of the range, among our numerous large scale solar and wind projects across the globe, we financed and built a 126MW solar plant within the Benban complex in Egypt to supply the national utility. In Australia, we will even provide no less than five private counterparts with solar energy wheeled through the national grid, from our 256MW Kiamal project under construction.

What are the latest battery storage resources that may help surpass the intermittency hurdle of renewables?

Renewable energy sources are all about energy: they come cleaner and cheaper but are only available as and when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. While annual kWh yields can be accurately predicted from statistics and weather models, the kW intermittency requires at all times a balancing source of power, like dispatchable generation or storage. As with everything else, one cannot have it all, and the balance is hard to find.

Energy storage is nothing new: hydroelectricity is a renewable and yet dispatchable source of energy. However, not only do these dams need specific reliefs and very large-scale investments, but recent years have evidenced highly volatile hydrology patterns, new paradigms somehow linked to climate change which need to be anticipated. Pairing hydroelectric dams with solar or wind is, in our view, an excellent way of saving and efficiently managing water in reservoirs.

Battery-based energy storage is also becoming increasingly relevant as the industry matures and manufacturing accelerates, driven by a soaring demand from the mobility industry. Li-ion technologies are the front-runner and the widest spread across the globe, but they still have to prove their economic relevance on a case-by-case basis. This brings us back to favouring ‘value’ over price tag, whether to enhance the value proposition of renewable energy or choose a standalone configuration behind the meter to offset peak loads at an industrial site, for instance. ESI

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