A key challenge Africa faces is supplying reliable electricity round the clock, especially to off-grid communities and industries. Across the continent, there is also an increasing demand for reliable energy access in combination with insufficient generation capacity. Nevertheless, the potential power that could be generated in some areas from sources like hydro, geothermal, wind and solar is substantial.
This is where microgrid technology comes into play. Microgrids consist of distributed energy resources and loads that operate in a controlled, coordinated way and are typically located at or near the place where energy is used. They have the advantage of being quick to build and can operate either as stand-alone grids or be connected to the main power grid. In sunny or windy places, microgrids can be powered by renewable energy, such as a small-scale solar farm or local wind turbines.
Not only does this mean that microgrid technology can be a means to reach electricity to remote or isolated areas, but with the technology for managing integration of renewables becoming much more affordable, opportunities to harness the power of these sources of energy could be tapped across Africa.
Prioritizing renewable energy
A new modular and standardized microgrid solution installed at ABB's own premises in Johannesburg, South Africa is an example of this. It serves the power demand of ABB's factory and offices by using power from the sun captured by a rooftop photovoltaic (PV) plant, in combination with a PowerStoreTM battery-based grid stabilizing system, which allows for up to 100% peak penetration of clean solar energy. At this site in Longmeadow, Johannesburg, ABB has its South Africa head office, logistics and manufacturing center. ABB is also represented in several other South African cities, and has a strong presence across the African region with engineering and sales offices.
The microgrid solution at ABB's site has full on- and off-grid functionalities and prioritizes renewable energy before using the existing diesel generation based back-up solution. This environmentally friendly solution is also reducing the operational cost of the industrial complex and the battery has the ability to store excess PV power that is not consumed. ABB's microgrid specific distributed control system, Microgrid Plus, makes it possible to monitor and optimize operations and maintenance, whether connected to the main grid or when running operations in an islanded mode in the case of a power outage. In line with the Internet of Things, Services and People, this facility will be capable of being monitored, as with other microgrid solutions, by a cloud-based ABB monitoring software which allows for increased reliability and optimized operation.
Another example of where ABB microgrid technology is making a difference on the African continent is for a remote windfarm called Marsabit in northern Kenya. Here the population of 5,000 relies exclusively on a wind- and diesel-powered microgrid.
Speeding up economic development
Microgrids have enormous potential in Africa, where more than 900 million people lack access to electricity. In sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of the population - 620 million people - live without power, microgrids could dramatically speed up economic development.
"ABB is a pioneer in microgrid technology and providing uninterrupted power supply and reliable power is in line with our Next Level Strategy," explains Massimo Danieli, Managing Director of ABB's Grid Automation business unit, a part of the company's Power Grids division. "Microgrid technology is available now and it is likely to be a critical piece of the smarter energy future."