Time for Africa to harness smart grid technologies
Sub-Saharan Africa can improve access to electricity services by adapting 'Smart Grid' technologies to suit the region's pressing needs, say energy experts led by Morgan Bazilian, special advisor to the director-general of UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
At least 585 million people lack access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa and this is set to increase to 652 million by 2030 — the target year for an ambitious goal of assuring universal access to modern energy, set by the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change.
To meet this goal, the region will need to develop extensive electricity infrastructure. Bazilian and colleagues say Sub-Saharan countries have a "unique opportunity" to adapt specific components of innovative, 'intelligent' electricity networks, known as Smart Grids, to improve access to electricity.
But to guarantee this access to energy services without marginalising the poor, it is important to implement socially just power systems, they say, ensuring reliable and low-cost energy access during off-peak times. Their concept of 'Smart and Just Grids' includes tools and practices that aim to optimise the operation of power grids; incorporate renewable energy; and make the electricity supply more reliable and efficient.
Using ICT to charge for energy consumption via mobile phones, improving power lines and implementing regular maintenance schemes are just some of the socially beneficial elements that Smart Grids can offer. The technology could even "enable Sub-Saharan African countries to leapfrog elements of traditional power systems in terms of both technology and regulation", say Bazilian and colleagues.
They argue that Sub-Saharan Africa can learn from industrialised countries and progress without repeating their mistakes. But limitations such as lack of good governance, limited capital, failing infrastructure and shortage of trained personnel suggest that prioritising specific Smart Grid technologies is essential.