Microgrids can fulfill energy needs for rural communities and remote energy users.This is according to Webb Meko, Business Development Director, sub-Saharan Africa, Black & Veatch.
Communities and producers in Africa continue to struggle with energy deficits caused by a lack of infrastructure access in some cases and poor energy quality and high power costs in others.
Limited electricity access, particularly in rural areas and remote locations, has contributed to economic inequality and reduced prosperity in sub-Saharan Africa - one of the most poverty-stricken regions in the world.
Rapid population growth on the continent, which is expected to reach 1.9 billion by 2050 and will contribute to a total power demand of 3,100 TWh by 2040, requires the use of various energy sources to meet escalating demand, including small-scale power facilities.
Microgrids, which are decentralised, small-scale electricity generating systems comprised of multiple power generation sources and electric loads, are particularly well-suited to provide electricity to the continent’s underserved and remote areas, as they provide a low-cost and flexible source of electricity.
“When operated under a consolidated control and energy management system, microgrids can produce and distribute electricity, and operate independently from larger power grids.
“Further, these systems can be completed and deployed in as little as 12-months when using modular equipment,” Meko explained.
Capacity and optimissation
Meko added: “The elegance of microgrids involves how various, small-scale power generation sources can be integrated into a microgrid with a control system to balance generation with overall load.
“Wind, solar, batteries, microturbines and other technologies can be adjusted to optimise performance while additional monitoring software can further the ability to track performance and maintain the optimal balance over the system’s operating life.
“These solutions are also scalable and can be integrated with national grids to provide additional capacity when demand grows.”
To extract maximum value from microgrid investments Meko suggests a programmatic approach be taken that incorporates strong project controls and effective programme management from engineering through procurement and construction.
“A comprehensive approach will enable scalable design at the programme level, which can then be executed through front-end engineering and design pilot projects before rapid replication across multiple sites.”
He notes that a common challenge in securing microgrid project financing is mitigating the risks associated with electricity fluctuation.
“Added capacity and varying inputs from DER must be carefully coordinated to avoid tariff cost uncertainty,” he says, adding that advances in battery storage and energy controls can better manage power flows and optimise energy use.
“Furthermore, employing the pay-per-use model for consumers can ensure returns for investors and attract necessary financial investment.”
Meko concludes that microgrids not only offer a cost-effective means to address the energy deficit across Africa but can also act as an economic enabler to help the continent reach its industrialisation goals.
Featured image: Stock