Renewable energy is driving an energy revolution that is literally empowering communities and citizens around the globe. A number of speakers promoted mini-grids using renewable energy with a focus on PV with battery storage as the solution for Africa’s rural communities. Localised renewable energy generation combined with digital metering and management to shift consumption patterns to match generation is happening elsewhere in the world. Can African power producers leapfrog into a combined renewables and digital revolution. The widespread uptake of cellphones in Africa shows that Africans are open to new technologies!

These are all challenges to the traditional models of energy utilities. How are they responding? Some are still supply focused and talk about growing traditional base load and centralized capital intensive generation such as nuclear power. Others are customer orientated and looking for opportunities to sell a comprehensive energy service rather than focusing on kWhs. The tipping point to privatized and localized energy models is expected in 5 – 15 years with a dramatic decrease in the price of storage (batteries). Some speakers argued that if the full role of efficient storage systems was quantified, the costs would already be justified. They are referring to battery back-up for power failures in the middle of critical medical or industrial operations, or the cost of storage vs the cost of fossil fuel peaking plants and the use of batteries / storage to regulate the grid as more renewables are connected!

What opportunities does the renewable energy revolution provide for us in Africa? 600 million Africans do not have access to electricity and the sub- Saharan population is predicted to double by 2050? Reliable sustainable energy is not just an imperative for health and education, it is literally the power behind economic well being.

Dr Kandeh K Yumkella at AUW 2016

Dr Kandeh K Yumkella at AUW 2016

Inspiring keynote speaker Dr Kandeh Yumkella of Sierra Leone, the UN Under-Secretary-General and the CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) appealed to the African Utilities Week delegates with the words: “I believe the best way to predict the future is to create it.” Asia has been riding the waves of each technology advantage, Africa needs to learn to surf too. Let us make the renewable energy revolution an African one.

Read more at: Does Kodak’s demise have lessons for power utilities? Kodak didn’t recognize the impact of digital cameras. Will ESKOM see the game changing role of renewables?

Kim Kruyshaar 28 May 2016