The power of renewables: how clean energy will help to electrify the continent

Published: Thu 16 Jun 2016
A blog entry by Martin Dunlea

Contributed by:

Martin Dunlea
Senior Director
Oracle Utilities

Martin Dunlea's Blog

In my presentation at last month’s Africa Utility Week event, I discussed how consumers are changing the utilities landscape in Africa by embracing Distributed Energy Resources (DER). With customers across the continent now leading market change by adopting personal solar panels, energy storage devices and smart appliances, utilities have the opportunity to leverage consumer control of the grid to provide better customer experiences.  

This year’s African Utility Week covered several interesting trends. Industry leaders discussed the rapidly changing African energy market, including the introduction of cost-effective tariffs and investment in Africa’s energy infrastructure. A key focus for attendees was the question of how countries and their utilities can deliver energy access to the entire continent.   

Recently, African leaders and members of the private sector endorsed the African Development Bank’s “New Deal on Energy”[1], which seeks to provide energy access to everyone in Africa by 2025. With an abundance of solar energy and the reduced price of renewable energy compared to fossil fuels, renewables will play a crucial part in helping Africa reach its goal of widening energy access.  

The lower cost of renewables and rising level of energy-consciousness among African consumers in particular have helped to drive growth in this sector. A recent report from REN21 examining international spending on renewable energy in 2015, revealed that last year emerging countries outspent developed economies on investments for renewable energy for the first time[2].

The adoption of greener forms of energy will require utilities in Africa to consider how to integrate renewables into the grid. To do so successfully, they will need to invest in smarter energy networks to mitigate the pressures placed on the grid by the introduction of new energy resources.  

These “smarter” networks will enable utilities to make better use of their data, and this data obtained through smart meters and connected devices will help them gain a more complete view of how customers are using energy and when.

With energy consumers increasingly taking ownership of the type of energy they use, it is important for utilities to understand their habits if they are to provide them with more personalised services, such as up-to-date billing. 

Utilities will also need to invest in localised power systems to ensure people in rural villages have access to electricity. Investing in micro grids will allow them to provide energy to local populations as and when needed. Kenya’s Last Mile Connectivity project, which seeks to connect over 18,000 households in the Kiambu County[3], is just one example of how governments are focusing on rural consumption.

Consumption is rising, and Africa’s governments have committed to providing electricity to all. To help meet these challenges, utilities will be tasked with integrating more sustainable forms of energy onto the grid and better managing their output. Only by investing in a smarter approach to network management will they be able to do so successfully and provide customers with the type of energy they want, when they want it.