Africa: Micro-Grids Open Door to Rural Electrification

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The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) announced that the 3rd edition of the International Off-Grid Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition (IOREC), will take place in Nairobi, Kenya on 30 September and 1 October 2016. IOREC is the premier global platform for sharing experience and best practices for stand-alone and mini-grid renewable energy systems.

In view of that, in the coming years the most significant opportunities for micro-grids will be for rural electrification across sub-Saharan Africa according to a regional sales director for APR Energy, Mark Makanda. He said, in a region where approximately 600 million people lack access to electricity, micro-grids are beginning to provide energy to areas long perceived as too difficult or uneconomic to connect to a national grid.

“There have been a substantial number of micro-grid applications in sub-Saharan Africa so far,” Makanda added, citing examples of Malawi and in Namibia micro-grids have the potential to become the building blocks of a larger distributed grid where power supply is significantly less than the demand. “Bringing electricity to these rural areas now means that they have access to proper medical care, lighting for schools, modern irrigation methods and sanitation, ” he said.

 The installation of micro-grids in remote sub-Saharan communities is also providing an essential tool for local economic development by introducing electricity to new commercial activities and revenue generation. Southern Africa has already produced a number of successful micro-grid installations, such as the infamous Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, as well as the island of Ascension in the middle of the Atlantic, both run on micro-grid systems. “We are also seeing many applications in the industrial sector.

Two examples are the Zwartkop and Thabazimbi Chrome mines in South Africa, which are powered by gas-diesel hybrid micro-grids. This solution combines solar technology with high-speed reciprocating engines to offer the sustainable benefits of renewables and the reliability of conventional back-up power,” he said. The backbone of these micro-grids consists of mobile power modules that are the size of a trailer and can easily be transported to remote areas via air, road or sea.

Once on-site, they can be up and running within 30 to 90 days. These modular plants also are easily scalable to accommodate local power needs, and can be quickly ramped up or down according to demand. These plants also offer economic advantages, since they require minimal capital investment, with the main cost considerations being the land and fuel.

Source: Independent Energy Watch Initiative

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