A case for distributed power generation How Decentralized Power Generation Can Alleviate Sub-Saharan Africa’s Electricity Challenges

Decentralized power facilities, sources that generate electricity much closer to the consumers, are touted to be vital in improving Sub-Saharan Africa’s power supply situation.

It has been highlighted, time and again, that Sub-Saharan Africa is home to close to a billion people without access to reliable electricity. The region’s electricity challenges may be attributed to several factors, most notably to insufficient connectivity particularly in rural areas, and intermittent power supply.

A recent study by Afrobarometer, a pan-African research network, illustrates that only 45% of rural areas enjoys access to the electric grid across 36 African countries considered. In fact, countries like Burundi, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Niger, Guinea, Liberia and Mali have extended the electricity grid to only a third or less of their territories. The inadequate grid extension and connectivity is stark in the West and East African countries, and in a number of Southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi.

But, even as various areas in Sub-Saharan Africa are connected to national power network, they are still not guaranteed to receive a constant reliable supply of electricity. For instance, 14% of grid-connected consumers in South Africa, 44% in Zimbabwe, 33% in Zambia, 23% in Botswana, 19% in Namibia and 15% in Kenya, say they still suffer from regular power outages and load shedding. This can be largely attributed to inadequate power generation, high transmission losses, and limitations in power distribution.

A case for Decentralized Power

Decentralized power generation systems can help countries in Sub-Saharan Africa alleviate their present power generation and transmission challenges. Several technologies can be implemented as a decentralized power generation system, including solar, wind, hydro, and temporary power plants running on diesel or gas.

Decentralized power generation systems will prove beneficial on several levels to Sub-Saharan African countries. Below are some of the highlight advantages of decentralized power generation technologies:

Flexibility

Decentralized power generation systems, like rental power plants, can be easily mobilized, installed and operated anywhere in the world, even in the remote areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. They can even be installed in areas without sub-stations, and can be directly connected to the grid regardless of its quality or age.

They can be completed and powered on in a matter of days, and can be rapidly demobilized once the area of service is already connected to the permanent centralized power plant. They do not require a huge upfront investment, and as such, do not have long payback periods. Instead, governments or power utility providers can pay for the rented electricity in regular intervals over a contracted term.

An example is Altaaqa Global’s natural gas temporary power plants in Douala, Cameroon, which were installed and powered on in as little as 21 days from the time the equipment arrived at the intended sites. The power plants, because they comprised modular and containerized power equipment, were easily delivered from the point of origin in the Middle East, to the port in Douala, to the power plant sites, and were successfully installed despite space limitation.

The power plants have been consistently producing a combined 50 MW since they were turned on, easing the pressure on the main grid and reducing electricity demand at peak times. They have been instrumental in lessening the power supply deficiency and reducing the instances of load shedding in Douala.
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Scalability

Temporary power plants, as a decentralized power generation system, are highly scalable in that their output can be increased or decreased depending on the prevailing requirement. The power provider can simply add or subtract generators to or from the power plants to customize their output. The result is that the rental power plants generate the exact amount of electricity as demanded, so the power plants do not inefficiently run on part-load, and that the governments or the power utility providers do not pay for unutilized capacity.

Efficiency & Reliability

The US Energy Information Administration reports that up to 7% of the electricity generated by central power plants is lost in transmission and distribution. Turning to decentralized power generation technologies, like temporary power plants, can reduce the transmission and distribution losses because they are installed nearer to the consumers.

Moreover, rental power plants are regularly serviced and maintained by trained and qualified service engineers and technicians, and monitored and evaluated by competent certification bodies so their optimal energy performance and reliability is guaranteed.

For instance, Altaaqa Global’s 50 MW natural gas power plants in Cameroon have recently been awarded an ISO 50001:2011 certification for energy performance, making Altaaqa Global the first and only rental power company to have received the recognition. The plaudit was a testament to the power plants’ energy efficiency, cost-effectiveness and environmental stewardship.
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In addition to the above, decentralized power generation technologies can support various environmental initiatives in vigor in several Sub-Saharan African countries due to their environmental conscious operations. As a case-in point, temporary power plants running on natural gas comply with worldwide emission standards, while solar or wind power sources are completely renewable and contribute in conserving natural energy resources.

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