News

Driving Micro-Grid Standardization

By: Katrina Pielli
Republished with permission from Power Africa

Many discussions of how to electrify Africa focus on large, grid-connected power plants and small, household solutions, leaving a large gap?—?a “missing middle.” Micro-/mini-grids (micro-grids) fill this gap by providing community-scale energy services. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that micro-grids will electrify 140 million people in Africa by 2040, requiring a rapid scaling of micro-grids.

The strategic use of micro-grids is a key component of Power Africa’s 60 million new electricity connections by 2030 goal?—?estimating 8–10 million new household and business connections from this technology. Power Africa is focused on accelerating micro-grids through the development of supportive regulatory and policy frameworks, and in working with micro-grid developers to refine business models and operations. It is through the latter that we are helping drive standardization in the sector.

The Standard Microgrid team connects a new business to the microgrid in Mugurameno, Lower Zambezi, Zambia. Credit—Chuck Chastain.

While the engineering principles for micro-grids are well established, the lack of uniform standards, coupled with quality and safety concerns, creates a false perception that they are high-risk investments. To meet Power Africa and IEA’s estimates of electrification through micro-grids, significant scale-up in financing is needed. To address this concern, Power Africa partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to create the Quality Assurance Framework (QAF) for Mini-grids. The QAF will enable high-quality and financially viable micro-grid systems to deliver power to customers by providing frameworks for level of service, accountability, and performance. Power Africa and NREL are working with four leading micro-grid developers in Africa?—?Standard Microgrid, Devergy, Black Star Energy, and PowerGen?—?to pilot implementation of the QAF into business practices and projects. These pilots are located across sub-Saharan Africa and will lead to the development and publication of additional QAF materials to advance and support the broader micro-grid community.

Standard Microgrid’s 12kW solar array located at Mugurameno Primary School in the Lower Zambezi, Zambia. Credit—Standard Microgrid.

Power Africa is excited to be working with the developers selected for the QAF pilot projects because they are doing some of the most exciting and most innovative work on micro-grids in Africa. Each of the QAF pilot projects is focused on a slightly different technical area, but they all share the same goals of supporting the developers in a key area of interest and providing a platform for the development of additional QAF products to advance the sector. The objective of each pilot is summarized briefly below:

  • Partnering to update the customer agreement to make it more user-friendly and so that it better represents its micro-grid systems offerings, as well as to update and improve system modeling so that new customer loads can be more easily added. These efforts will be followed by additional support to help the company improve their process as they grow their business.
  • Partnering to analyze customer data from installed systems to improve the community assessment processes for micro-grids. Working together with a partner university, the team will attempt to better understand what customer and community information are good predictors of power consumption and to utilize historical data to identify standard customer segments.
  • Partnering to update and improve the system commissioning processes and documentation. As this developer is building a new micro-grid each month, standardizing commissioning process and quality control will help establish a methodology to ensure continued high reliability of systems as they scale up their business.
  • Partnering to expand and update specific components of the QAF by reviewing the performance data from this developer’s existing systems and incorporating lessons from their projects into the QAF.

Through these pilot projects Power Africa and NREL will develop additional QAF products detailing recommendations and best practices around a number of key micro-grid topics, such as customer agreements, system commissioning, community assessment, and direct current (DC) system design. These materials will further support standardization in the micro-grid sector and enable financially viable micro-grid companies to expand and accelerate energy access across Africa.

For more information or to see if your company or project might qualify for a similar partnership please contact Katrina Pielli from Power Africa at kpielli@usaid.gov or Sam Booth from NREL at samuel.booth@nrel.gov.