In Africa, natural events and surging demand place new spotlight on microgrids
The impact of natural disasters on power grid resilience is increasingly gaining attention worldwide. Adapting lessons learned from high-profile incidents that have occurred elsewhere for the African continent, where energy supply is already intermittent, may provide opportunities to enhance the region’s energy system reliability through smart grid infrastructure solutions.
Hurricane Matthew, the Category 3 hurricane that impacted the U.S. Southeast in 2016, brought the value of system stability and smart grids into sharp perspective by demonstrating that a proactive multi-year, multi-billion dollar utility grid modernization program paid off for utilities and their customers.
South Africa ranks 33rd of the countries most affected by climatic events in 2015, according to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2017. Four other African countries also featured prominently in the ranking: Mozambique (first) followed by Malawi (third), and Ghana and Madagascar (both ranked eighth). According to environmentalists, this is not surprising as the continent crosses multiple climate zones, making weather unpredictable across regional areas. Extreme weather can cause power surges that may lead to transformer explosions or other unexpected outages, which are particularly impactful in areas with limited access.
Such abnormal weather patterns, in tandem with a continued expected increase in power demand over the next 15 years, means African governments must continue to attract or deploy available funds to implement various solutions that will help accelerate energy access and fortify the region’s existing power grids. Estimates for the Sub-Saharan African region alone are anticipated to require an additional $300 billion in infrastructure investment to increase access to power and reliability—of which smart grids could be beneficial.
African governments must drive smart grid uptake by creating an attractive and well-regulated environment for investors, detailing guaranteed returns on investment.