Minigrids gradually becoming more connected in Africa

Emerging power generation networks, which are minigrids that are off the grid, are gradually becoming more connected and providing a directional generation of supply to the demand in Africa, where about 625-million people are still without access to power.
At a media roundtable discussion, GIBB power and energy services GM Paul Fitzsimons explained that the industry is shifting away from the traditional centrally-driven and controlled power generation model, towards minigrids that are driven by the emergence of smaller scale off-grid embedded renewable generation technologies.
However, he warned that the "utility death spiral", which occurs when additional distributed generation makes the grid more expensive for remaining consumers when consumption declines, further driving down consumption and, in the process, making self-generation more economically attractive.
"Notwithstanding that, within South Africa and particularly Africa, access to affordable power still remains a major issue for the economic wellbeing of the continent," Fitzsimons noted.
While about 85% of South Africa’s population has access to energy, GIBB sustainability consultant Louwrens van der Merwe warned that should Africa not address the energy crisis, the continent could "miss out on the Fourth Industrial Revolution."
Fitzsimons, meanwhile, noted that solar power is becoming an energy source of choice, with solar power expected to reach 1 GW of installed power in Africa within the next five years.
While this is a large increase, about 80% of the African population will still remain without access to electricity, as the continent is still largely dependent on biomass energy, which presents an environmental challenge.
"Carbon dioxide emissions are increasing in Africa, which leads to environmental degradation," he noted at the roundtable discussion, explaining that these and methane emissions can be reduced through the implementation of solar and renewable power generation.
This, in turn, would improve social and economic values, as access to energy would lead to improvements in educational performance, while also increasing supply to vital institutions, such as hospitals.
Meanwhile, affordability still remains an issue, with reliability of existing grid providers remaining in question.
eCubed director Tony Manavalan, however, enthused that the impact of blockchain and energy trading could improve affordability within the sector.
Blockchain technology and energy trading, he explained, uses a decentralised and distributed digital ledger to record transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network.
"This will provide the industry with a democratised funding method for the grid to continue functioning and produce energy, while creating job opportunities and keeping the money within a community, which will, in turn, positively affect the economic growth and development of the community, as well as the rest of the continent, " he elaborated.

Simone Liedtke is a Creamer Media Online Writer for Engineering News and Mining Weekly.