Innovations in technology and the lower price of renewable energy compared to fossil fuels have led African consumers to adopt distributed energy resources (DER) at a faster rate than expected. More than ever, people are embracing new forms of energy and driving changes in the African utility sector.
Consumers are making the most of cheaper energy generated from rooftop solar panels, wind turbines and diesel generators. At the same time, there is a general shift towards more sustainable energy management, from the proliferation of electric vehicles to innovative storage mechanisms. Uber recently announced its plans to use electric cars in order to help reduce CO2 emissions in Johannesburg.
Many innovative DERs are also being backed by regulation. For example, Kenya’s Energy Regulatory Commission recently announced that it would be revising its grid code to incorporate renewables. In Ghana, the government has announced plans to roll out rooftop solar panels across 200,000 homes as part of its solar energy program.
There are of course challenges associated with this change. By increasingly using DERs, consumers are introducing more reliability and service quality risk into the distribution system due to the intermittency of these devices. Utilities must adopt a more precise and robust approach to network management if they are to effectively manage these risks. A smart data analytics strategy is essential to making the most of DERs and to guaranteeing users a reliable energy supply. Just as crucially, it can help utilities reduce the burden of expensive peak capacity pricing.
This is where modern network management systems add value. They provide utilities with dynamic, real-time data on flow conditions across the network to help better manage the integration of distributed energy sources. By more accurately modeling load profiles and forecasting where and how DER growth will impact the grid, utilities can realize a number of mission-critical benefits. These include reducing the capacity for intermittency to cause disruption and safety issues, eliminating the need to bring additional and costly generation resources online, and improving resource planning to support DER growth.
The smart meter roll-out in countries such as Ghana and South Africa will help local utilities better understand their customers based on the data they collect. This information will enable utilities to manage their customers’ energy use and provide a more energy-efficient service. Kenya Power has already started down this path. The state-owned utility will implement 5,600 outdoor meters to help its users improve their energy efficiency.
As Africa’s population continues to rise, so will its energy needs. The introduction of different sources of energy into the grid will require African utilities to process more network information and make faster, better-informed decisions on asset deployment and network topology. Using smart data analytics will help utilities ensure their energy networks can accommodate the increased strain that comes with these changes. Finally, network management systems employ analytics functions that provide energy suppliers with a wealth of information on how energy is being distributed across the grid so they can manage operations more proactively.