A sharper focus on renewable energy has led to increased opportunities for microgrids in rural areas, industrial and commercial parks and residential developments in African countries.
“Technology is progressing very fast on alternative energies and systems. An increased focus on renewable energy is widening the playing field and opening up more opportunities for modern technology,” Siemens East Africa hub and Kenya country manager Johan Helberg told Engineering News Online in a recent interview.
He said integrated energy solutions could make a big difference in the lives of people living in rural communities. This had been shown in Siemens’ work in East and West Africa in particular.
He said a simple but integrated solution was key.
“We have helped to electrify communities through simple but powerful solutions. For example, five or six small diesel generators, together with ten small solar photovoltaic (PV) panels can be integrated onto the Siemens system. The Siemens control element is at the heart of the microgrid. This system will also be grid-ready and grid compliant, while surrounding communities that have the system set up, can inter-trade with each other.”
Microgrids are also considered attractive for urban residential developments and industrial parks. Siemens is developing an expandable microgrid solution for a 405-acre commercial, industrial and residential development based in Takoradi, Ghana’s third-largest city. The first phase of the WestPark development will be powered entirely by renewable energy. The microgrid will be powered by on-site PV panels, which will be backed up with battery storage.
Helberg said Siemens had demonstrated its success in microgrids through its end-to-end Distributed Energy System (DES) at its headquarters in Midrand, Johannesburg. The system was developed with Africa’s energy transition in mind.
The system is built around a 1 MW PV solar plant, positioned throughout the Siemens Park campus. Captured solar power is then integrated into the SICAM microgrid controller.
Excess energy is stored in a 140 kWh storage installation. The entire system is monitored, visualised and controlled by the Internet of Things (IoT) energy platform, MONET.
Helberg said the DES had far exceeded its target of a 25% reduction in operating energy costs and had changed the way monitoring is done.
“A maintenance engineer is able to see what is happening in the palm of his hand. If you are a maintenance engineer, your ability to respond and maintain uptime is phenomenal now with the visibility through the digitalisation side.”
The first Siemens DES solution of its kind in Africa is in line with the company’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 through energy efficiency, decentralised energy systems and the purchasing of clean electricity.
Helberg said the system was effective throughout the campus, right down to the office lights and air-conditioning systems, which only switch on when necessary.
“As people come in to the office, the system looks at the loading of the area. It says ‘Okay, we have three people . . . we don't need 50 lights. We only need to illuminate a specific area’. As the people move, it follows them through smart automation. All of these energy savings combined give us a phenomenal output. We’re really excited about it. It’s a real game changer.”
The future of microgrids was one of the key talking points at the recent African Utility Week and PowerGEN Africa conference and exhibition in Cape Town.