Access to cheaper and reliable energy, through renewable energy technology, would be a catalyst for boosting the African continent’s gross domestic product (GDP) in a sustainable way, green energy technology provider New Southern Energy (NSE) CEO David Masureik told Engineering News Online in a recent interview.
Renewable energy, such as wind and solar, is easier to deploy in remote locations, while having less associated costs in terms of the damage it inflicts on the environment, he stated.
He added that implementing renewable technology, through hybrid microgrid solutions, will enable the continent to overcome challenges such as high commodity prices and poor and costly access to energy.
However, with sparse availability of existing grid infrastructure and a lack of financial support across Africa, Masureik believes the solution lies in microgrid applications, as these are “applicable for remote sites with little to no grid access”.
“Large parts of Africa will remain without power for a long time if we must wait for the utilities to build transmission lines and increase the energy supply,” he lamented, adding that solar and wind solutions can be easily deployed in remote locations for rural electrification or off-grid applications, without the added burden of costly transmission lines and grid infrastructure”.
Microgrid sites, he pointed out, usually run off diesel generators with operational expenses that can run as high as $0.50/kWh. NSE’s microgrid solutions, which are typically hybrid solar solutions, convert the site to run predominantly off renewable energy, thereby saving large amounts of diesel and reducing the related negative environmental impact, Masureik said.
The challenge, he says, has always been the offtake, and getting investor involvement.
All is not lost, however, as Masureik pointed out that growing industry awareness has had a positive influence on both the business model and uptake.
In terms of uptake, especially considering the 650-million people in Africa currently without access to energy, Masureik believes there is a clear trend in the uptake of microgrid solutions.
“What we’re seeing in the industry at the moment, is two-fold. You’re seeing an increasing uptake in your home-solar markets, which goes a long way in reaching these 650-million people. We are also seeing the business case for rural electrification maturing where, in the past, microgrids have been focused on commercial and industrial industries owing to lack of investor comfort,” he explained.
In an attempt to bolster Africa’s infant renewable energy industry, Masureik highlighted NSE’s end-to-end service, which includes operation and maintenance (O&M) services.
O&M services, which are still at the bottom of the curve in terms of efficiency, optimisation and understanding, he added, provided an opportunity for the company to enter into a partnership with Belgium-based drone software company SiteMark.
“With SiteMark, we’re able to improve on O&M through the use of drone technology, to inspect the site and its panels for anomalies instead of the traditionally-used handheld thermographics,” Masureik said.
Drone technology, he added, provides a more efficient and cost-effective solution to survey a microgrid plant.
While he champions renewables, Masureik cautioned that Africa’s energy future will not be solely reliant on renewables but that it will require a mix of energy technologies.
“You have to keep the baseload in mind in terms of providing a whole country, or continent, with energy. While the energy transition is undeniable, renewables will play an increasingly larger role in the energy mix as battery technologies improve, but this will take time.”
AFRICAN PROJECT FOCUS
NSE, in late-May, successfully commissioned two microgrid projects in the Okavango Delta, in Botswana.
Built for luxury lodges, the microgrids are capable of 212 kWpPV, with a 630 kWh/159 kVa Tesla battery pack and 100 kWp PV, with a 285 kWh battery pack, respectively.
NSE also provided the bulk alternating current (AC) reticulation, as well as hot water solutions for the sites.
Considering that both of these sites ran an entire day on generators prior to NSE involvement, Masureik highlighted that both sites are now saving significantly on diesel, while remaining environment-friendly.
Other projects include a solar thermal plant that was installed at a hotel in Cape Town.
Solar thermal solutions, he added, are ideally suited for clients that have a high hot water demand.
“Through NSE’s exclusive partnership with unique premium technologies, we are able to provide our clients with best-in-class solutions to meet their requirements," he noted.