General Electric has been a prominent player in the energy space for 120 years with which about 100 years has been in Africa as to where it has managed to be the biggest player in the energy connection space with over 70 percent of the continents energy flow going through its grid solution energy centers. Although the company has been in this space for decades the acquisition of Alstom Power and Grid Business in 2015 injected new life into GE with a department then created to focus especially on new markets that pose the greatest areas of growth such as Sub-Sahara Africa where only 52 percent of the population has access to electricity. Pundits forecast that demand for electricity in Sub-Sahara Africa will grow four fold by 2040 with a sizeable share of this energy coming from renewable sources.
It is thus not surprising that a company like GE has put up a large team to focus on how it can be part of new connections in Africa at its Nairobi office. Already the company has various large projects all over the continent including the Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast among others. In East Africa in particular the company is involved through-out the entire energy value chain all the way from the generating plants at Gorge Farm Energy Park which uses organic waste and sunshine to produce renewable power to the sub-stations and transformers while in Ethiopia the company is involved all the way from developing strategy for the energy sector.
On the grid GE is particularly involved in the automation the century old grid available in various African states most of which need upgrading to run efficiently. Although GE recognizes this is going to be a challenge considering the vastness of such grids the company adds that Africa has a chance to get it right by incorporating technology so as to run among the World’s first smart grids that are easier to manage and offer more information through data analytics.
“Ultimately all grids need to be renewed. This is a good opportunity to take note of new technologies such as automation that could lead to lower capital expenditure costs through construction of digital substations that are more smart and that require a lot less copper,” President and CEO of Grid solutions at GE’s energy Connection business unit Reinaldo Garcia told OilNews Kenya.
Already the company is in the process of establishing the continents first digital substation in the continent in Zambia. This is Zesco’s first 330 kV GIS substation turnkey project contract will see GE design, supply, install and commission a system that allows real time monitoring including remotely that will ultimately improve the overall transmission system by reducing technical and non-technical power losses. The contract that includes the installation of remote terminal units at various substations will see Zambia have an automated and smart grid one that can be replicated in various African states especially when investing in new grids.
“With such substations we can now get more information on their behavior, congestion areas on the grid among others. With a few such sub-station we can make the grid smart those benefits are immense,” Garcia adds.
The company is also helping African states deal with the challenges arising from various energy mixes into the central grid especially renewable energy such as solar and wind that do not supply constant power. This is as the unstable power generation from these sources offers a technical challenge where systems need to remedy to constant ups and downs in energy supply mainly through storage units. GE boasts of the distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS) that can reroute energy sources with this constant interruptions.
The company is also pioneering on the grid software stage with applications that can help better predict the behavior of electrical equipment thus enabling companies run them better than what they were designed for.
“For companies the wide range of devices and software on our portfolio enables them to set up an entire system with products from a single manufacturer. This means that the grid can run as it was originally envisaged.”
And while some of these changes might pose threats earlier not evident to the old grids such as cyber-attacks President for Grid Solutions/Energy Connections in Africa Lazarus Angbazo is confident that the continent is ready for the challenge.
“Many will ask, Is Africa ready. I say yes.First through automation the cost savings provide a good incentive, on the infrastructure front the grid in many areas is being designed that making it easier to incorporate new designs. Whilst no country can be totally secure from attacks the biggest defense lasts in equipping the staff working on this grids with the right skills as most attacks target the system from within.”