Recent events throughout the world have now made people reconsider the issue of security of their energy supply and what technology can do to deliver it.
There is an increase in the demand for a more reliable energy delivery. In response to this, utilities around the world are deploying technologies to enhance reliability. A recent audit estimates that available technologies could have prevented or reduced the outage time to one hour in 95% of the outages in South Africa.
We spoke with Andrew Jones, S&C Electric Managing Director about how technology can improve the delivery of power and limit unnecessary outages. He will be expanding on this subject in our webcast on 30 April -Combatting Africa's chronic power outages - The role technology can play.
Utilities face similar challenges
Utilities around the world are faced with three challenges at any given time:
Global carbon concerns-Carbon emissions are on the increase and are a great cause for concern. In response, governments are setting emission and renewable energy goals
Affordable technology-Governments have a responsibility to keep prices down so that consumers’ rights are not affected. Technological solutions should not cause consumers tariffs to increase significantly
Security of supply-Utilities need to ensure that their customers have access to an uninterrupted power supply. On-going outages can have a devastating effect on a country’s economy and well-being.
Each of these issues are prioritized differently according to a country’s economic circumstance.
For instance, the UK is aiming for an 80% reduction in emission levels by 2050. As 80% of the UK’s grid will still be in place by 2050, technological solutions can be added to the grid to enhance transmission performance.
In comparison, Mr Jones predicts that in Africa, 40% of existing grids will be operational by 2050. This opens the door to apply a wide variety of technological solutions. There is certainly more opportunity to try different solutions in order to enhance the security of the continent’s power supply. Africa is looking to develop economically and it will need a robust power supply in order to achieve this. Not only will this help local industries, it will also create employment.
No need to reinvent the wheel
There are a number of tried and tested products out there in the market, explains Mr Jones adds that often these solutions are inherently smart and that there no reason why a continent like Africa shouldn’t continue to use them.
“Sometimes it makes sense to carry on with what is being used instead of starting from scratch. What they (Africa) have done already is pretty smart and it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel in some cases,” explains Mr Jones.
However, new solutions or different methods can be added to existing equipment. This will help to improve security of supply, especially when it comes to reducing outage times. The new technological solutions, in conjunction with the existing equipment, will help to increase resilience. Mr Jones points out that there is a lot of existing “older” technology which was developed in the 1990s that can be adapted to meet the needs of Africa’s grid.
Return on investment
Smart grid self-healing certainly does pay off in the long run, says Mr Jones. The “old” grid’s response time, which could take two hours or longer--even days if the power system has experienced extensive damage from extreme weather conditions-cost utilities a great deal of time and money. With the reduction in outages (thanks to smart grid technology), the savings for all customers served by a smart grid feeder could be hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Most owners and utilities should expect to see a return on investment in as little as one year.
Energy storage in Africa
The energy storage market is growing exponentially around the world. Remote communities in Africa will definitely benefit from it since many rely on renewable energy such as solar. Since solar power can only be generated during the day, storage will ensure that the excess generated, can be used at night or during overcast days.
Distributed generation makes far more sense in these remote parts since the development of new grid infrastructure will prove to be very costly.
Also, energy storage can play a critical role during a power outage. Instead of using diesel generators, energy storage (from excess renewable generation) can be used instead which helps reduce carbon emissions, enhances security of supply and is also more cost-effective.
When energy storage, advanced distribution automation schemes and conventional products are combined, there will be a significant improvement of security in supply.
Mr Jones explains that the idea is to locate potential problem areas or target potential manufacturing areas with high performance products. He adds that a “one size fits all” solution will not work. There will be parts of the grid that will require different types of solutions in order to operate effectively as a whole. Unnecessary installations will have dire financial implications.