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microgrid in Nigeria
A microgrid in Nigeria -- image credit: Husk Power Systems via Canary Media

Clean Power

World Bank Supports 1000 Microgrids In Nigeria

Microgrids in Nigeria are getting a boost from the World Bank, which is promoting 1000 new systems in the coming years.

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Nigeria, with a population of 200 million, has 12,500 MW of installed electricity generating capacity, much of which sits idle most of the time. As a result, much of the country relies on gasoline or diesel generators for their electricity. Many communities outside the country’s largest cities are not connected to the energy grid at all.

The World Bank proposes to bring electricity to those areas not by expanding the nation’s grid, but by helping to fund the development of microgrids throughout the country. After meeting with government leaders last week, World Bank president Ajay Banga said that in collaboration with Nigeria’s public and private sectors, his organization aims to support building 1,000 micro solar power networks in Nigeria, which is the continent’s largest economy, according to Business Insider.

The average size of microgrids, which are often powered by solar panels, ranges from a few kilowatts to up to 10 MW — enough energy to power about 200 homes.

Already there are approximately 150 microgrids in Nigeria that have been funded in part by the World Bank. “We are putting another 300 in, but our ambition with the government is to go all the way to 1,000. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that are being invested,” said Banga, without giving a timeline. “Now the idea is not for the World Bank to be the only person putting the money. We put in part of the money like a subsidy,” he added.

According to World Bank data, 568 million people in sub-Saharan Africa still do not have access to electricity. About 80% of the world’s population that does not have access to electricity live in Africa.

The World Bank recently praised the newly elected president Bola Tinubu’s first actions as leader, stating he is resolved to act morally and responsibly. The president of the World Bank stated that Tinubu is doing all the necessary steps for Nigeria to survive and improve its current circumstances, adding that if not, Nigeria will always be running unaffordable deficits. “We had a really fruitful discussion, not only with the President but also with a lot of his aides, and we spoke about what was in his mind as priorities,” Banga said.

The Power Of Microgrids

In the beginning of the electrical age, the plan was to build a large central generating station near population centers. The electricity produced would be distributed to the local community using a collection of substations, transformers, poles, and wires. The idea of storing electricity made now for use later wasn’t even a dream in Thomas Edison’s brain more than 100 years ago. 20 years ago, the output from a solar panel was so weak, no one thought they would ever power anything other than a flashlight.

The hub and spoke model that Edison and George Westinghouse pioneered had one significant side effect. Thanks to the idea that the companies should be exempt from competition, they were protected by state-created monopolies that concentrated political power in the hands of a few. Instead of electricity becoming a public good, the monopoly system created the belief in the utility industry that “We own the electricity, damn it, and we will tell you how much you can have and what you will pay for it.”

Microgrids, on the other hand, democratize electricity, making it subject to local control. No wonder the utility industry hates the idea! It diminishes their power over their “product.” By promoting microgrids in Africa, the World Bank is promoting democratic ideals as well.

In a sense, there is a parallel between what is happening in the utility industry and what is happening in the automobile sector. Legacy automakers, like utility companies, are struggling to hold on to their normal business model while trying to transition to the electric car future. Startup companies like Tesla have never made conventional automobiles, which means it has both feet in the future, not one foot in the past.

Microgrids & Control Systems

There’s more to creating microgrids than putting up some solar panels and plugging stuff in. Batteries are essential to storing electricity during the day so it can be used at night after the sun sets. Microgrids can also get electricity from wind turbines or geothermal systems. To be usable, electricity must meet certain voltage and frequency requirements. That requires sophisticated control systems.

Even designing a microgrid requires time, expertise, and money. Finding the right plot of land and designing a system comprised of components that will work well together is an art in itself. Then there is the process of getting the needed permits and acquiring the land, which takes time and money. Next comes getting all the bits and pieces together and getting them to the site. Then there is the need for trained people on the ground who can put it all together and get it working properly.

Microgrids In Africa

Nigeria is not the only African country seeing investments in microgrids taking place. In Ghana, the government plans to install 35 solar photovoltaic microgrids and build standalone solar systems in 400 schools, 200 health centers, and 100 community energy service systems in the Lake Volta and Northern regions. Island communities will benefit from the installation of 12,000 rooftop solar systems with batteries on small- and medium-sized enterprises. This work is expected to “close the gender gap in outcomes by creating 2,865 equitable jobs and livelihoods, 30% of which will be for women and youth,” says the Abidjan, an Ivory Coast-based financial institution.

Senegal, in partnership with Gauff Engineering of Germany, has recently commissioned 60 solar microgrids. In order to make productive use of the electricity, the local farmers will also receive electrical pumps for irrigation and machinery for processing agricultural products. Those microgrids in the Kolda region are in addition to the 44 installations that have already been handed over and put into operation in the Kaffrine region on the Gambian border.

The Takeaway

Microgrids have trouble getting installed in developed countries because they disrupt standard business practices. But in parts of the world where utility grids are unreliable or nonexistent, they are introducing millions to the wonders that access to electricity provides. Those countries will become electrified without ever experiencing a functioning national utility grid. It’s a paradigm shift that is making utility grids obsolete in many parts of the world.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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