Electrical Power & Protection

Microgrids meet energy requirements of remote operations

May 2024 Electrical Power & Protection

As the world’s second largest continent, the vast expanse of Africa lends itself to remote operations, often hundreds of kilometres away from civilisation and the hub of infrastructure and supply, such as energy.

Industries like mining, minerals and metals must often contend with considerable energy loss or high transportation costs of diesel for self-generation due to these vast distances. The reality is that electricity which travels far encounters conductor resistance, which in turn leads to transmission inefficiency.

Furthermore, distance also negatively impacts grid stability, as power systems require balanced supply and demand to ensure reliable operations. Transmission infrastructure maintenance, repair, and new installations can also be prohibitively expensive when the nearest town is hundreds of kilometres away. This effectively adds to the cost of electricity for the customer.

The good news is that advancements in off-grid electrification have opened new possibilities for remote industries. Technologies such as microgrids, which mostly comprise renewable energy such as solar and wind, not only mitigate energy loss but also contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contributing to organisations’ net zero goals.

Importantly, remote microgrids can also give back to communities; typically there are small settlements or towns close to mines and other remote operations, which in turn create an economic ecosystem of sorts. By utilising microgrids, remote communities can meet their own energy needs, benefiting from stable supply when the closest maintenance crews are kilometres away. Furthermore, microgrids can work together to create a mini-grid and give surplus energy back to the grid,

The benefits of microgrids in remote areas also go beyond their ability to harness and manage renewable energy.

Nishandra Baijnath, systems architect, Power Systems, Anglophone Africa at Schneider Electric.

They offer:

• Higher resilience: Microgrids can generate and store electrical energy independently from any main power grid supply, thereby offering a more resilient approach to maintaining power stability. They can either act in coordination with the existing grid or as an independent island, giving a steady, predictable supply of energy that greatly minimises operations downtime related to power interruptions.

• Support for migration from fuel furnaces to electric furnaces: In the glass and steel industries, a sustainability trend towards the electrification of furnaces is helping to reduce costs and to lower global carbon emissions.

• Innovations such as electric arc furnaces (EAF) and direct reduction iron (DRI): These are helping to eliminate the use of high-emission fuel furnaces. Microgrids play an important role in supporting these new processes as alternative and additional sources of renewable energy.

• Easier management: Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure microgrid operation (EMO) is an on-premises power management solution that ensures stability and reliability of energy supply in all grid conditions.

• ROI: Lower renewable power generation prices make microgrids increasingly cost-effective to operate. Prices are also declining for electric energy storage, allowing for more effective self-consumption of renewable energy sources.

Coupled cloud-based energy management solutions such as Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure microgrid advisor (EMA) provide a web-based HMI for site managers to process the various demand and response requests and optimise output decisions based on energy tariff rates and weather forecast predictions, while factoring in user consumption constraints. Essentially, this allows for making the correct decision at the right time for forecasting and optimisation, showing when to consume, produce, store, or sell energy.

Microgrids offer a truly viable option to remote areas, overcoming a myriad challenges associated with traditional grid operations to ensure a stable and reliable energy supply while also establishing greener, sustainable operations.


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