Innovative microgrid solutions help address a real-world challenge

The microgrid is being viewed as the enabler of quicker access to reliable electricity in Africa
Published: Tue 28 Jun 2016

Over 600 million people in Africa currently have no access to a reliable source of grid electricity and many experts in the energy sector believe that the microgrid will be be able to change that.

Engerati spoke to Tony Duarte, Microgrid Manager, ABB Microgrids at the African Utility Week studio, who claims that microgrids will quickly bring sources of generation together, balance them and supply rural areas especially within a short period of time. Utilities will benefit too as microgrids are located close to the source of power which means that there will be a reduction in unnecessary transmission losses and the microgrid can isolate itself from the grid which is very handy during outages. Microgrids can also supplement peak demand management for minutes and even seconds which can defer investment of substation upgrading. [The rise of the microgrid.]


Integrated solar-diesel microgrid in South Africa

ABB has just commissioned an integrated solar-diesel microgrid installation at its 96,000 square metre Longmeadow facility in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is a world premiere for the innovative solution with fully grid-connected and off-grid functionalities designed to maximize the use of renewable energy and ensure uninterrupted power supply to keep the lights on and the factories running during any planned or unplanned power outages on the main grid supply.

South Africa has the highest electricity consumption in the sub-Saharan region and demand continues to outpace supply. Power shortages, fossil fuel price volatility, environmental concerns and the increased focus on renewable energy sources like wind and solar, are leading to the search for sustainable solutions. South Africa is certainly not alone when it comes to power shortages and outages and several other emerging economies in Africa, Asia, South America and other parts of the world face similar challenges. There are thousands of facilities that could leverage such a microgrid solution to address the matter.

ABB’s microgrid installation in Johannesburg comprises its compact and versatile PowerStoreTM battery-based grid stabilizing system to address frequency and voltage fluctuations. It also includes a Microgrid Plus distributed control system (DCS) to manage the supply of power and balance the fossil-fuel and renewable energy sources in accordance with loads, in a coordinated manner, enabling access to utility grade power.

The 1MVA/380 kWh PowerStore™ and Microgrid Plus, together with a 750kW rooftop photovoltaic field have been added to the existing back-up solution at the location to boost renewables and provide continuity of supply during disruptions or transitions from grid to island operation. The modular and containerized microgrid solution is pre-designed for this type of application. A cloud-based remote service system will be deployed for the operations and maintenance of the microgrid in keeping with ABB’s Internet of Things, Services and People (IoTSP) approach.

“This innovative microgrid solution helps address a real-world challenge by providing stable and cost-effective continuity of power supply while minimizing environmental impact,” said Claudio Facchin, President of ABB’s Power Grids division.

Microgrid concept is new to Africa

Duarte says that although microgrids make sense for the continent, the concept is relatively new in terms of industry and technology. He explains that governments are still “gearing up” to take advantage of the many opportunities that the microgrid offers. Also, funding can prove to be an issue and often it is the Independent Power Producers that apply for private finance for microgrid development.

Says Duarte: “Just by the fact that you are increasing access to electricity opens up a whole new world of technology and community development. The microgrid creates security of power, achieves the lowest levelised cost of energy at any one time, as well as reducing the carbon footprint. This should be the main focus of investors when it comes to microgrid development.”