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Smart grids take off in Africa

AFTER a series of grid failures, Nigeria is on a drive to digitize its power grid, just one of a number of African countries building smarter grids that will help them better incorporate green energy sources, offer smart metering and improve power access and efficiency.

IN a bid to improve the delivery of existing power capacity, Nigeria’s country’s transmission authority has digitised its electricity transmission, according to a statement from the Transmission Company of Nigeria, following a series of grid failures.

“GLDS (Generation Dip/Loss Detection System) incorporates sophisticated data analytics and machine learning algorithms to analyze real-time data and identify patterns associated with sudden generation loss,” the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) explained in a statement.

The new GLDS system will be complemented by a cloud-server interface leveraging IoT technology. The interface was built in-house by company engineers.

Nigeria’s grid digitization efforts are pivotal for its smart grid aspirations and by leading the charge, Nigeria sets a compelling precedent that paves the way for other African nations to revamp their grids, according to Githae Mbugua, a Nairobi-based geologist and green energy advocate.

According to Mbugua, smart grids are also a vital tool to increase renewable energy into the grid.

“With an increasing reliance on green energy, the smart grid allows for optimal utilization of these intermittent sources… By monitoring whether patterns, grid operators can anticipate solar and wind energy availability, ensuring a smoother integration into the grid,” Mbugua explained.

With current grids ageing and strained, and blackouts becoming a prolonged nightmare, Africa urgently needs a grid revolution. IEA statistics reveal staggering power losses averaging about 20% continent-wide. In some nations, this figure skyrockets to a staggering 41% or more against global averages of 8%.

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In Nigeria, studies indicate that grid power losses can exceed 50%. The recent major blackout in February 2024 plunged major cities into darkness, highlighting this ongoing issue. According to the International Energy Agency, such incidents have been reported over 46 times between 2017 and 2023 in Nigeria alone.

Smart grid technology remains largely untapped in Africa, but progress is underway. Across multiple nations, ongoing initiatives hold promise for spreading this transformative technology.

In South Africa, the South African Smart Grid Initiative, by the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), is spearheading efforts to renovate the country’s ageing grid infrastructure and achieve comprehensive electrification by 2030.

As part of this initiative, there’s an ongoing program to replace traditional metering systems with Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), or smart metering.

The South African government has in the current financial year allocated more than US$108 million (2 billion rand) that state utility Eskom will use to replace about 6.9 million meters with smart meters. According to Eskom, more than 400000 smart meters have been installed after a pilot in Fourways.

According to SANEDI, “smart meters will catalyze the achievement of smart grids nationwide, as they facilitate seamless two-way communication between utilities and customers.”

Morocco is also gearing up for its own smart metering initiative, with a current feasibility study underway focused on the city of Marrakech. Launched in 2022, the study targets a complete overhaul of Marrakech’s power distribution infrastructure, aiming to transition it into a smart grid system.

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Also, neighbouring Egypt’s utility provider, the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, is planning a country-wide smart grid in a bid to meet the needs of the country’s growing industrial development. Egypt’s government is looking to increase energy output from renewable sources to 42% by 2035.

Ghana’s electricity company has this month announced replacement of 450000 meters with smart prepaid meters. The Gambia, Kenya, Cameroon, Rwanda, among others have rolled out smart metering initiatives in recent years.

However according to Mbugua, despite there is need to mitigate underlying challenges such as cybersecurity, standardization gaps, data management concerns and issues of scalability.

“Embracing technologies like advanced energy storage, IoT integration, and AI will unlock a wealth of opportunities, revolutionizing the power grid as we know it,” he explains.