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Proof that Africa can leapfrog the world in power technology

May 17 2017 10:29
Matthew le Cordeur

Cape Town – While Zambia is currently embroiled in a political crisis, it is about to show the world that Africa can leapfrog power technology.

READ: Zambian opposition leader in custody for another week

That is according to Lazarus Angbazo, CEO of Energy Connections Business for GE Sub-Saharan Africa.

“We are very excited that we are about to start commissioning a pioneer project in Zambia,” he told Fin24 at the African Utility Week in Cape Town on Tuesday.

“We are just about to conclude the construction of the first digital substation in Africa,” he said. “This is a demonstration of leapfrog technology coming to Africa in a big way. That is a catalyst for similar projects around the region.

“The beauty of the digital substation is that it leverages all the digital advantages: reliability, asset optimisation and the ability to pre-empt downtimes,” he explained. “We have the ability to leverage digital data that comes from system that provides insights.”

Leapfrogging power technology is crucial on a continent that is so far behind the world in electricity generation. “Two-thirds of Africans don’t have access to electricity,” said Angbazo. “That’s over 600 million people.”

“Power remains the number one challenge of our region,” said Angbazo. “Without power, the economic development aspirations won’t be met.”

Africa has an installed base of 80 GW of electricity, half of which is in South Africa. There is also 12 GW in Nigeria, 4 GW in Ethiopia, and 2 GW each in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Kenya.

“Those that have access, lose over 25% of generated power during the transmission of electricity,” he said.

“Other than South Africa, most of what is installed doesn’t necessary get delivered,” said Angbazo.

“The biggest challenge in the value chain is the transmission infrastructure, which is quite degraded in most countries.

“It requires updating and modernisation and expansion,” he said. “This conference is growing in importance and sense of urgency with respect to the distribution and transmission challenges, which are critical for the delivery of power.”  

Angbazo provided four solutions to the power problems facing Africa:

1. Connecting generation to the grid and the grid to the distribution network: The balance of plant solutions are what GE Energy Connections Business provides. Eg substations, transformers, circuit breakers, connectors and disconnectors, grid automation technology and asset optimisation software. This allows physical delivery of power and provides stability and reliability of power as well as optimisation of operations.

2. Integrating new sources of power: With innovations in technology and climate change, countries need to address a mix of energy. All of these need to be integrated into the grid. Existing grid infrastructure is one way; it’s about integrating new, renewable sources.

3. Financing the projects: If you look around the region, there is money that wants to be here, but isn't because investors can’t see well planned, structured and bankable projects. Demand creation: working with government to put together solutions, including financing to ensure projects are executable and provide assurance of delivery from design, to construction to operations.

4. Capacity building: GE has made a big bet in Africa – it has localised a great deal of operations technology, skills and capacity. The company does training for human capital development for state utilities.

Angbazo said he was encouraged by the cooperation of South African government decision-makers and industry stakeholders in the utility sector.

“The key challenge is how we accelerate the development and delivery of projects,” he said. “Part of that is financing, project development capability, and the prioritisation that governments have.”

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Follow Fin24 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. 24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

african utility week  |  electricity

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