The uptake of smart grids in South Africa has not reached its potential and Taru Madangombe, Vice President of Power Systems in Southern Africa for Schneider Electric, comments on the reasons and solutions to increasing South Africa’s implementation of smart grids.

“This energy revolution is causing dynamic changes in the market. One of the major challenges is the unavailability of good technical competencies, as people need to adapt from traditional power systems, with labour intensive practices, to a new model based on digitisation. This Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), ushering in the industrial internet of things (IIoT), requires new skills and expertise based on digital expertise.

“In the implementation of a smart grid system, there is a gap between the available skills and understanding of the system. We are involved in the updating of digital training courses at universities and technical colleges across South Africa and in the Anglophone region (including East Africa).

“These skills need to address the region’s requirements of new connectivity, new mobility, remoteness of regions and how you make systems more efficient, smarter and reliable. It is no longer about learning how to commission switchgear, it is about reading, analysing and reacting to data coming in from multiple sources on the grid.

“Of even more interest to South Africa is the concept of microgrids, a localised power grid that can operate either in conjunction with the main electrical grid or independently of it, as an ‘island’, offers opportunities to smaller municipalities and remote communities.

“This is one of most feasible opportunities for Africa as a whole, as electrification still has not reached 600 million in sub-Saharan Africa because of the huge capital investment required for grid strengthening through construction of large substations and long transmission line.

“In South Africa, we have achieved 89% electrification, but that figure has not shifted much in the past 10 years because there is not sufficient infrastructure, to justify investment in such long transmission lines to some remote areas. Therefore off-grid systems are the answer to these challenge,” Madangombe concludes.

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