Decentralised v. Centralised Power in East Africa

By: Alexander Marshall
Twitter Logo @alex_t_marshall

The following points are the summary of findings from three round tables at the East Africa Power Industry Convention (EAPIC) in Kenya, 28th August 2015.

The groups considered the large centralised power distribution networks in Europe and the United States, which are evolving towards a more de-centralised structure. The groups went on to evaluate the aging infrastructure in parts of East Africa, coupled with significant increases in demand.

How should East Africa develop its network in the future in order to match demand and supply, achieve optimal energy efficiency and increase the deployment of renewable energy?

A further factor was considered in relationship to the intermittency of renewable power generation infrastructure such as wind and solar power and how this can be addressed within the East African market?

Group conclusions / thoughts:

  • Larger centralised power plants will continue to play a key component of the power generation mix in major urban areas such as Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Kampala, due to high demand for power.
  • Consistent users of power, such as industrial buildings should look to offset their power demand by self-generation via renewables and combined heat and power technology.
  • Remote areas often are suited to micro-grids. Solar power stations can be balanced by diesel and/or biogas hybrids.
  • Hydro and geothermal have good potential for base-load power, however are often in locations remote from end users, meaning transmission of this power is often a necessity.
  • Distributed generation means less strain on the transmission network and reduced investment costs.
  • Inter-connectivity is important within and between countries in order to balance loads.

The ability for power generators to be able to connect to the grid, both technically and legislatively are important factors in enabling the development of a more decentralised power distribution network.

Creating energy from waste materials is an interesting proposition which means problematic materials can be treated close to the site of use and in parallel generate renewable power.

In summary Africa can learn from the inefficiencies of older developed power distribution networks. It is most likely that East Africa will develop a hybrid solution encompassing both centralised and decentralised power generation in order to meet future demand.

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