How can a smarter grid change Sub-Saharan Africa?
- January 21, 2016
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Los Angeles-based Delta Energy and Communications is a smart grid energy solution provider that recently opened a Cape Town, South Africa office. We sat down with Scott Foster, founder and president, to talk about issues and opportunities in the region.
What's the biggest problem that Sub-Saharan Africa is facing with growing electricity demand?
Foster: Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the largest undeveloped regions in the world with 22 million of its people living without electricity. One of the biggest problems the region will face will be establishing the grid---extending the current grid’s infrastructure and also optimizing the new infrastructure that is put in place.
For example, as this region starts to have more people switch from biomass for cooking to more modern solutions, utilities will have to address the growing pains that come with adding more people to the grid, including planning for a high demand for electricity at peak times. If they do not, the likely hood of black outs, which are already prevalent, could increase and add more stress to the communities.
How can that issue be resolved--or can it?
Foster: Now is an ideal time for Sub-Saharan Africa to revamp existing programs and modernize its infrastructure. And, some of the most promising solutions are those made possible by the cloud. These solutions are more affordable and simple to integrate.
This region has also developed baseline cellular infrastructures that allow them to communicate via mobile phones. Having this infrastructure in place makes it easy for them to support cloud-based solutions.
For example, Kenyan farmers have adopted the M-PESA phone credit system into their workflow to provide transparency on average crop price, trade goods, and more. As such, these regions benefit from having simple, basic infrastructures that provide a rudimentary starting point for establishing cloud-based data architectures.
The cloud is also feasible in this region because of recent developments in the delivery of sophisticated SaaS platforms, making it affordable and simple enough, technically speaking, to integrate.
How is the smart grid changing utilities in Sub-Saharan Africa?
Foster: With the smart grid and cloud solutions, advanced data visualization can be delivered, supporting a deeper understanding of the data relationships from system to system within an electric utility. These system visualization techniques are especially useful in rural areas that lack traditional infrastructure identification characteristics.
Cloud-based technologies can also enhance the programs already in place. Using a program that collected data analytics on those consuming electricity, one could track peak energy times, and conserve energy output when it’s not needed – saving both the power plant and its users money.
Having the tools to correctly analyze and use energy usage data will make it possible to create a broader functioning grid that can expedite the entire country’s development and success. By harnessing the data in real-time, one could pinpoint where power appears most vulnerable, allowing the utility to spend less time and resources – of which are likely manual and extremely limited – looking for the area that needs to be corrected.
How does the local electric utility blend into plans for the region's economic growth?
Foster: A region’s economic growth is predicated upon local commerce and resources. As the infrastructure is developed and modernized, so will the local communities.
Not only that, but jobs will also become available at these utilities. Though utilities in developing areas may lack access to experienced engineers, it will be important for them to have solutions that can be understood by local workers.
Modern software designs make this possible. They provide a clean, easy-to-understand presentation of complex data sets and relationships that can be used by occasional users, a critical strategy for developing regions due to manpower limitations.
What are the top issues that utilities themselves are facing in the region?
Foster: Actually installing the smart grid infrastructure and cloud based systems. Both require upfront financial investment and support which in developing regions such as Africa is a limited resource.
But things like Kenya’s MPESA systems make modernizing the grid a viable solution because the baseline infrastructure is there and its one that will allow for cloud based solutions, which are more affordable and easy to implement, to be put in place.
What advice would you give local utilities to solve those issues?
Foster: The cloud and big data analytics solutions will be critical to modernizing and effecting growth in the developing regions. Having a more efficient system in developing regions has the potential to significantly improve daily life for inhabitants.
The benefits are far-reaching, and technology companies should be aggressive about applying their understanding of the cloud and big data to contribute to the growth in this market. The availability of these solutions will usher in a new era for the region, and will allow them to fully embrace the capabilities of future smart grid developments.