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Successful Rural Electrification

In the drive to provide a reliable source of energy for rural communities in Africa, many factors must be considered.

With about 1.5 billion to 2 billion people in the world without electricity, the drive to improve life sustainably is to enable organizations and governments to provide electrical energy to these households, the majority of which are in Africa. Organizations such as CIGRE are working with the World Bank, learned organizations such as the IEEE and the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE), as well as standards authorities such as AFSEC (the African standards association) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to improve the knowledge of engineers in these developing countries. The main drive is to enable electrification, thereby driving the use of clean energy and economic growth.

It is known that the benefits of electrification — meaning, in this case, the provision of electricity to those who do not have electricity — include the following:

• Improvement in education by providing lighting and limiting the amount of time students need to look for wood fuel for cooking

• Improvement in health by preventing and reducing burns and lung disorders from breathing in smoke

• Ability to earn income through sale of ice, sewing of clothes and welding of gates and doors

• Easier access to internet and charging of mobile phones

• Improvement in environment by allowing trees to grow closer to villages because they are not required as wood fuel, thus air quality improves.

With the increase in education level and ability to earn income, the community prospers, which eventually leads to the macroeconomic climate improving.

In many African countries, there is a shortage of generation, and the traditional grid supply will not be adequate to provide a reliable source of energy. This implies that microgrid solutions could be an option, either as a microgrid linked to the grid or a stand-alone system. It also may be possible to provide a household a source of photovoltaic panel and battery.

In the case of remote rural electrification, there are some factors to take into account. These have been obtained through years of experience by Eskom engineers [including the author] in Africa.

Density of houses. The areas closer to cities can exhibit more than 1000 houses per square kilometer. In the rural areas, this can drop to 70 or less, as costs of supply are far higher.

Mobility of houses. The meter is often the most expensive device in the dwelling. During times of flooding or fire, the owners may decide to move to another safer location. The utility may come upon the dwelling only to find a meter among a ruin of a house.

Strength and condition of houses. The houses in rural areas may be made of mud and straw. These houses cannot take the weight of the incoming low-voltage cable or installation of a photovoltaic panel, therefore, a modular self-supporting installation should be used.

Billing and revenue collection. Many dwellings in rural areas do not have road access or a physical address. There is no postal service, and letters or invoices cannot be delivered. In these cases, a prepaid meter with an online vending system is required. Consideration also could be given to third-party transformer zone retailers that collect revenue and pay the supplier. They can be trained for first-order fault isolation and assist in limiting non-technical losses.

Fault management. In rural areas, it often can take a full day to cover 50 km to 60 km (31 miles to 37 miles). Therefore, it could take a day for a fault to be reported, due to lack of communications, and a day or two for the supply to be restored. The SAIDI in these areas can be measured in days, unlike the few minutes experienced in first-world countries. If appliances are provided, the utility may be called out if they fail, thus enable entrepreneurs to provide appliances.

Location of the tribal chief. In some rural areas, the tribal chief will approve the electrification program as well which areas to electrify. It is important to ensure the tribal chief receives electricity even though he may reside some distance from the village. Topology of rural areas differ with some villages clustered whilst others have no defined structure or boundary.

Community involvement. The community needs to be involved in all aspects of the provision of electricity. The community should be employed in the construction of the network or installations. Failure to include them may result in vandalism of equipment and failure to accept connections.

Management of perceptions. The provision of photovoltaic and batteries is sometimes seen as "lower class" electricity as it often precedes the supply by grids that may have a higher capacity. Photovoltaic supplies may deem to further delay the provision of grid supplies.

Community education. In communities with no prior experience of electrical energy, it is necessary to educate them on use of electricity as well as safety issues.

The above are a few of the main points that are necessary to consider in connection of communities with no prior knowledge or access to electrical energy. This applies irrespective of the technology used albeit conventional grid, microgrid or nanogrid.

TAGS: Distribution
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