Ensuring that the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and East African Power Pool (EAPP) countries have sufficient transmission and distribution infrastructure in place to enable electricity utilities to export (or ‘wheel’) power is one of the biggest opportunities offered by the African energy market at present, argues Louis Naidoo, AECOM Power Market Sector Director for Africa.
AECOM’s extensive experience in this regard includes its involvement with the 2 000 km regional power interconnector project that will link the Zambian, Tanzanian, and Kenyan (ZTK) electricity grids. Not only will this boost power generation and distribution within the SAPP and EAPP, it is also vital for power integration on the continent, and makes access to power for remote communities and industries possible.
“This is our number one priority in Africa. We were recently shortlisted to submit a proposal for the Mozambique-Zambia 400 kV Interconnector Project. We also submitted an Expression of Interest to the Ugandan Regional Electrification Authority for two major transmission and distribution network projects,” Naidoo reveals.
“With excess capacity on the grid, and major power plants such as Eskom’s Kusile and Medupi providing additional capacity over the near future, we should see a slowdown of future large-scale generation build in the short- to medium-term.
“We will, however, see an uptake of small-scale distributed energy off-grid solutions with hybrid technology such as solar-battery-wind or solar-waste to energy (or biomass),” Naidoo adds. Off-grid systems will power small communities and small- to medium-scale industrial operations.
Regional interconnection is a priority focus at the moment, as it will allow Eskom and other “generation hubs to export power to its neighbours and avoid the risk of having ‘stranded’ assets”, Naidoo advises. “At AECOM, we strive to make a difference, as evidenced by our motto of ‘built to deliver a better world’. Africa is vast, and its remote regions are in desperate need of power and related services.”
A major hurdle, says Naidoo, is inadequate funding. “Together with other organisations, we can play a role to assist in the facilitation of investment that is required,” he argues. This will have a direct, and positive, impact on people’s lives and end users.
Latest trends in terms of generation include waste-to-energy (municipal solid waste), which has major potential in South Africa due to the growing generation of municipal waste and the limits reached on landfill sites. A critical success factor for this type of plant would be a proper waste management system. With a continuous supply of waste, these plants could provide base load power.
AECOM has a strong focus on wind and solar energy, with up-and-coming technologies such as battery storage also coming into play. “I think there is more maturity required in the battery storage space, where costs are still prohibitive. Due to the fact that this technology is currently in demand, the roll-off in terms of production and price is likely to accelerate much quicker than with solar photovoltaic technology, for example,” Naidoo points out.
He believes that the focus on sustainability, and therefore renewable energy in Africa, will continue to grow. Naidoo explains that the major advantage of off-grid energy is that it obviates the requirement for substantial transmission infrastructure costs, land leases, and associated environmental factors. This allows developers to ring-fence these projects in terms of their financing requirements.
With regard to skills development in the energy sector, Naidoo stresses the importance of developing professionals who are technically competent, particularly for the current changing energy environment.
“For example, it is advantageous to have engineers who have a strong business or commercial acumen. It is also advantageous to have resources that are able to understand, apply and adapt to different technologies.” In terms of skill sets, he explains it is important that personnel are not placed in silos, but are sufficiently multi-skilled so that they can migrate into other sectors when required to do so.
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