Interconnected Microgrids Light the Way for Africa

Microgrids are a huge opportunity for Africa’s developing countries.
Published: Mon 18 Aug 2014

The distributed generation and microgrid space is a huge opportunity for everyone involved in Africa, says Rick Rathe, Global Rental Manager, CAT Rental Power, who spoke to Engerati at the Africa Energy Forum.

Microgrid development

There is a great opportunity for existing large power plants to be integrated with distributed renewable generation sources like wind and solar. Rathe says that this can all be tied together with the demand response side. “Those countries that are still in the process of developing their electrical infrastructure should consider this model,” says Rathe. Microgrids are creating remote islands and villages, and are also beginning to power many mines across the globe.

Rathe says that microgrid developments can be viewed in the same light as the development of telecommunications. “With distributed generation microgrid development, we are moving from power line infrastructure to something more wireless.”

While the upfront capital cost of renewable generation is still high, it will become more viable once microgrid and distributed generation technology prices decrease. While renewable energy has many benefits, it also has an intermittent nature. It is for this reason that the right energy mix is critical. Oil and gas for instance can help to reduce the need for energy storage which is still rather costly. Photovoltaics and wind still require significant upfront costs and therefore requires government support and private investment.

Smaller projects make economic sense

“Financing of renewable energy projects is still a big issue even though we know it will pay itself off in the long run. This is why we think small projects will help economic growth and spur additional investment and development. As prices come down, subsidies won’t even be necessary in the future,” explains Rathe.

Interconnected distributed generation microgrids will reduce technical losses, will improve demand response and will help to manage the grid more effectively. Energy security and reliability will be significantly improved.