Smart grids the answer to Africa’s power supply dilemma?

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Multinational ICT firm Huawei has announced South African utility services provider Eskom as its first industry partner to collaborate on smart grid development within the telco’s Johannesburg-based OpenLab, officially opened in April.

The collaboration will be based on shared expertise and industry knowledge, with Huawei providing innovation, data centre capability and smart grid development experience to facilitate solution testing before rollout.

Huawei did not commit to a timeline for the delivery of solutions or related project rollout, but insisted that requirements will have to be identified first and that Huawei is willing to provide an open platform to customers to strengthen the ecosystem.

Huawei made the announcement during its 5th Power Summit, co-hosted during the African Utility Week conference in Cape Town, South Africa, and said the partnership will enhance the development and innovation of smart grid technology.

Under the theme ‘leading new ICT, the road to smart grid’, the telco and utility services provider will collaborate on the acceleration of digital transformation within the power industry through the development of electric power cloud services, AMI intelligent power consumption, and fibre-optic communications for smart grids.

This transformation is based extensively on the delivery of ICT solutions to enable a smart grid to deliver efficient, reliable and affordable energy to consumers.

Huawei is positioning itself as a one-stop ICT solution provider to drive the development and implementation of smart grid technology, which, according to the telco, is becoming more relevant within renewable energy management.

Johnson Chen, CTO of Energy Industry, Huawei Enterprise Business Group, said the value proposition incorporates a 100% data collection rate, real-time online loss analysis to improve revenue,

unified management system for easy operation, professional planning, design and implementation capability.

One of the main advantages of the technology is that it allows utility service providers to account for energy utilisation in real-time and reduce commercial and collection losses, something that has made a difference to regions like Nigeria and Cameroon.

Market research by Huawei has found that in general, countries in Africa experience an average of 30% – 40% commercial and collection losses.

However, Huawei and its partners acknowledge that solutions alone are not the panacea to the continent’s power supply and resource challenges and there are a number of basics that need to be handled before solutions can be acquired and implemented.

“You have to know your terrain, you must understand your customer base – where your power is going, who is using it… technology also costs a lot of money, and in Nigeria, for example, the infrastructure is old and upgrades are required. These are costly, but they must be done because infrastructure is the backbone,” said Anthony Youdeowei, CEO of Ikeja Electric, part of the oil and gas firm Sahara Group.

Eman Liu, President, Enterprise Business Group, Southern Africa, referred to the company’s 11.2 MW micro-grid with energy storage project in Cameroon, which is said to supply power for 166 rural off-grid villages.

Liu also mentioned the Ikeja AMI Project in Nigeria, characterised by the rollout of 285 000 smart meters.

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