Energy experts believe there are great opportunities to save money and boost efficiency with a move towards more digitisation in the energy sector.
They are preparing for a shake-up, spurred on by a move away from conventional generation systems, a surge in renewable energy and the introduction of more microgrids.
“The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) has created a massive disruption in the power sector,” says Schneider Electric VP for Southern Africa Taru Madangombe.
He tells Engineering News Online that the energy sector is being shaped and changed to make way for a renewable energy mix. “Within the next five to ten years, $10.3-trillion will be invested in energy, of which 70% will come from renewable energy. “
Decentralisation is expected to be a key feature in Africa, and automation and energy management multinational Schneider Electric is gearing up for it, said Madangombe.
“We are starting to move away from conventional, traditional generation systems. With the decentralisation of power, microgrids will be developed closer to the load centres, bringing more efficiency and reliability to the network.”
While decentralisation pose challenges, they can be overcome.
“With the decentralisation of energy, you will have different energy sources being connected to the grid. Traditionally, that is bound to cause complexities on the network, but we have solutions for it,” says Madangombe,
He points out that advanced distribution management systems, or ADMSes, allow for different energy sources to be connected to the grid. The introduction of many off-grid players prompted the need for energy automation and software to manage energy.
Digitisation is expected to boost efficiency and cut down on energy losses on the network. At the end of 2016/17, Eskom reported an average of 8.85% in total energy losses, but digital advances can provide power utilities with better visibility of the entire network.
“If you hear about a network fault in an area, you have to send technicians to search for the fault, while time is ticking and the customer doesn’t have power. With digitisation, you can pinpoint the fault very easily, and restore the network faster,” says Madangombe.
He adds that this can save plenty of time and billions of rands over time. Digitisation can also improve the safety of staff.
“You can remotely control substations. Previously, there was a risk of a technician being caught up in an explosion at a substation. But now we can monitor the problem remotely. We can operate without somebody being in the vicinity of the transformer.”
Madangombe expects technology to play a critical role in African countries. He foresees microgrid solutions as being key to electrifying rural communities in Africa, where 600-million people do not have access to energy.