At the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa, Caspar Herzberg, President, Middle East and Africa, Schneider Electric, supplier of solutions, energy management and process automation, was part of the Universal Energy Access panel on the first day of the conference. This session was associated with the Platform for Shaping the Future of Energy.

More than 600 million people lack access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, exacting a heavy toll on inclusive growth. From renewable energy storage to smart grids, the panel discussed what models can support the continent in reaching universal energy access by 2030?

“It is easier to supply energy to urban areas but urbanisation is not a positive phenomenon. If one travels around Africa and looks at the power lines above and townships below, the difficulty is in the last 50 metres, where there are many social issues,” explained Herzberg.

“Globally, there is a trend to go towards decentralised grids and, with mini grids; we have the opportunity to create an integrated approach to make cities more liveable and efficient. Equally, you want to focus on rural areas with mini grids to reverse the trend of rural urban migration.

“One thing, we have found is that when you put a functioning mini grid, with a business model, in a previously disconnected community, it reverses that trend and creates a new local hub. An excellent example of this is the Onibambu case study in Nigeria, where Arnergy, a Nigerian solar power company, solved rural electrification in collaboration with Schneider Electric and Bank of Industry (BOI).

Mini grids business model

“Providing access to energy to 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa may seem an attractive investment opportunity from the sheer numbers, but if it was easy it would already have been done by now.

“The challenge is the business model around mini grids – what do people do with the energy, how to integrate these into the local economies, how will this be done sustainably and, more importantly, how do you maintain and operate micro-grids? To make this work, basic electrical skills are needed, at scale, and that is where a public private partnership needs to work together to build these skills. Schneider Electric is not just about building factories but investing in people and skills development, as we have done in South Africa for over 30 000 people.

“Finally, there is the question of off grid and on grid but this can be managed by the digitisation of the smart grid to ensure integration. The technology is there, we now need to deploy a national matrix so that the conflict can be well managed. Added to that, there is no real conflict between the two, it is more about how they can work together (on grid and off grid) to ensure universal energy access. This is an expertise that Schneider Electric can offer,” concludes Herzberg.

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