The deployment of microgrids across the African continent has evolved beyond its socioeconomic goals to providing a viable answer to the energy ‘trilemma’, said Taru Madangombe, Vice President: Power and Grid for Middle East and Africa at Schneider Electric at the recent Africa Energy Indaba, held at the CTICC in Cape Town.Coined by the World Energy Council, the energy trilemma is defined as finding the right balance between: Affordability and access, Energy security and Environmental sustainability. Speaking at the panel on Development of Mini-Grid and Off-Grid Solutions, Madangombe emphasised that microgrids have become a missing part of the puzzle, meeting the WEC trilemma’s energy security challenge. “We are no longer seeing the adoption of microgrids in rural areas alone but also in major cities where we are trying to stabilise energy security. This is particularly relevant across the African continent which has been faced with major loadshedding challenges for a number of years,” he explained. “Also, the deployment of microgrids in cities make it more attractive for investors, particularly when aligned with respective country tariff rebates and cost incentive programmes, as well as when an off taker has been secured. “And this is also where technology comes into the fold, playing an important role in enhancing microgrid systems to deliver valuable insight into investment decision through integrated planning and monitoring software tools that provide data analytics and offer visibility for the investor to be able to monitor and track their revenue generation,” says Madangombe.
Looking at energy security challenges, Madangombe cites a current microgrid project at John F. Kennedy International Airport as a prime example.The project entails the deployment of an 11.4 MW microgrid with rooftop solar, fuel cells and battery storage, enabling an under-construction terminal to be powered during electrical outages. The Schneider Electric and AlphaStruxure joint venture will construct, own and operate the microgrid. It will operate as an energy-as-a-service model, and include about 7.7 MW of rooftop solar, 3.7 MW of fuel cells and 2 MW/4 MWh of battery storage. “The John F. Kennedy airport microgrid will operate when there are power outages on the wider grid while also advancing the transition to cleaner power and boosting reliability. Furthermore, airport operators across the US are increasingly pursuing microgrid projects as power disruptions and extreme weather events become more common,” he adds. Looking at the deployment of microgrids in rural communities, Madangombe noted that the establishment of stable, secure energy supply gives way to further community development through productive use of energy initiatives. “One such example (amongst many) is in one of the remote villages of Limpopo where Schneider Electric was involved with deployment of small microgrid system to power a bakery and a community centre. Community members no longer have to drive kilometres to purchase essentials like bread and the provision of energy has led to the construction of as sport training centre for children and other projects.”