Exclusive interview with Rick St John, Business Development Director Africa, Lucy Electric – longstanding event partners and this year's diamond sponsors at African Utility Week.
“Extracting value from data – the key to network management in a changing environment”
Can we start with a breakdown of the kind of work that Lucy Electric does in the power and utilities sector across the continent?
Lucy Electric are 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 the design and implementation of automation projects, from concept to deployment, and we use our engineering excellence to design and manufacture best-in-class automated 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 business in the region is almost exclusively long term supply contracts, and we expect to see this continuing in the foreseeable future. We work closely with our customers to provide tailored solutions which continue to add value, and make it easier for them to manage their distribution network reliably, economically and sustainably.
Any specific projects that you are particularly excited about that you can share? What were the highlights from 2017?
2017 was a great year for Lucy Electric. We continued to experience organic growth across Africa and we designed and managed the implementation of an increasing number of secondary distribution network automation projects in the region.
Since launching the Aegis36, our first 36kV ring main unit, at AUW last year, we have developed a further enhancement to our range of ring main units up to 24kV. We will be launching a Fused Switch option for the successful Aegis Plus RMU at this year’s AUW. It will provide customers with an option for a compact fused ring main unit, where these are the preferred option, across Africa.
We will be showcasing the latest developments to the graphical interface on our industry-leading GridKey LV/MV monitoring system and associated analytics which enables customers to identify actionable information.
Finally, we will also be launching an extension to our Gemini 3 remote terminal unit (RTU) range. The Gemini Mini provides a cost effective, base level option on our market leading RTU. The product is well suited to the African market and provides flexible core functionality and an effective way for customers to manage costs across high volume implementation projects.
In your view, what are the main challenges to the energy sector in Africa?
Without a doubt the biggest challenges facing the energy sector across Africa continues to be developing reliable access to electricity and the shortfall in energy generation.
In Sub-Saharan Africa for example, the electrification rate is relatively low for the majority of countries. Around 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity, many in rural areas, and meeting the challenges of growing capacity and improving access are essential to enhancing wellbeing and furthering economic growth.
We expect the market to develop strongly in the future as the infrastructure is extended and upgraded to meet growing demand across the region. One trend we have seen is the growth in automation to improve the quality of supplies, respond to the increase in DER and enable swift responses to faults.
What this in turn has created is a large quantity of data on how networks are operating and the performance of assets. This has great potential to add real value to the investment strategies of utility companies if they have the tools to turn this ocean of data into actionable information.
For successful project delivery, companies need a clear view of future needs and a project partner they can trust to deliver projects from end to end, reliably, economically and sustainably. This is where partnering with an organisation such as Lucy Electric can help. Our experts work at the cutting-edge of distribution projects and can help organisations scope and specify future-proofed solutions which are tailored to their needs.
From retrofitting existing installations to network expansion or completely new installations, we can offer guidance in developing the scope of the projects, setting objectives, and helping to determine the course of action best suited to the customers’ requirements, timescales and budget.
Our approach delivers projects as efficiently and as effectively as possible, using a structured project control methodology to develop a solution that adds value, delivers a high quality result and is flexible enough to meet future challenges.
What is your vision for this industry?
Globally, how energy is generated, distributed and consumed is changing rapidly. We are entering a new era that is driven by several factors that influence regional markets differently depending on the local infrastructure and the focus of developments in each region. This is being driven by three major global trends.
Decarbonisation of the electricity supply, which is influenced by environmental concerns and local, national and global environmental policy is driving major growth in renewable generation sources. With mass electrification a key topic for Africa, achieving this with freely available natural resources, has significant potential.
Decentralisation of networks is increasing with the growth of distributed generation and the use of microgrids within wider infrastructure resulting in regionalised and local distribution control. Specifically in Africa this is supporting mass electrification to rural communities.
Digitisation of networks is expanding with the development of automation techniques and the growing need for data and network intelligence to manage distribution more actively and intelligently. Making sense of the data available is a way that companies can maximise the value of their network investment while ensuring the reliable supplies needed for regional economic growth.
These developments are part of a very exciting time for the electricity sector across Africa. Access to electricity is an enabler of economic growth and we expect to see major developments in infrastructure over the next decade or so. At Lucy Electric we hope to play a key part in helping to make this a reality.
We are continually developing our product range to meet the changing needs of the marketplace and our latest generation secondary distribution solutions, coupled with the in-depth expertise of our engineers, can help our customers across Africa manage and develop their network infrastructure reliably, economically and sustainably.
Lucy Electric is a diamond sponsor at African Utility Week this year – you are a valued, longstanding partner, why do you partner with us?
African Utility Week is a key conference which evolved over the years from an electrical measurement, generation, and transmission conference to a conference now dealing in energy generation, transmission, distribution and measurement, showcasing the latest technologies available to the African market. With the addition of renewables some two years back, AUW is now the best energy conference on the African continent, giving exhibitors and delegates alike excellent value.
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.
Our diamond sponsorship includes a conference presentation on how actionable information from network data can maximise the capacity of assets and increase the use of renewable energy.
What will be your message at the event?
We are looking forward to demonstrating our expertise in secondary distribution networks with a particular focus on our automation product range. This 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 for both underground and overhead networks about our retrofit solutions, latest generation automation-ready ring main units and remote terminal units as well as our SCADA, distribution management and LV monitoring systems.
Particularly this year, we will be focusing on the opportunities available from the collection and analysis of network data and the enhanced user interface for our Gridkey monitoring system will provide easily accessible and actionable information.
Access to electricity is an enabler of economic growth and key to achieving this is to maximise the use of renewables. Lucy Electric will be presenting on this at AUW and exploring how new technologies that enable greater renewables, flexibility and demand response are extracting added value for Africa’s networks.
Anything else you would like to add?
Many countries in Africa offer good opportunities for business growth and a need for our products and services, yet the sheer size of the continent presents logistical challenges in terms of distribution into different markets.
As we have experienced in other markets, this can be made easier through local representation; we have successfully worked with local partners in many markets around the world and we are currently looking at expanding our presence in Africa.