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Towards a Smart Grid for Namibia

by Conrad Roedern

When I called for more energy autonomy and decentralisation in the energy sector it all boils down to manage our energy transition. Again the focus will be on electricity since we have made meaningful strides in the right direction by embracing renewable energy (RE) and allowing embedded generation und small individual power producers (IPPs) to supply. The motto “from consumer to prosumer” is increasingly favoured and it drastically changes the landscape in the electricity supply industry (ESI). But the pending transition leaves unresolved issues and much need for innovation. Some of the following thoughts are inspired by Julia Hamm, CEO of US Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) published in Photon International 9/2016:

It takes acknowledgement and a shift in thinking by the technology providers and our utilities to fully recognise three things:

  1. Distributed energy resources will play a larger role in the ESI than previously assumed and the transition is emerging more quickly than expected.
  2. The key success in this new environment will be effective partnerships between technology providers, developers and utilities.
  3. A future smart grid is – rather than focussing on individual technologies – a convergence of many distributed technologies – more than we previously thought. To mention just a few this ranges from advanced metering infrastructure, information technology (IT), distributed storage run by private investors, electric vehicles (EVs) to rooftop solar. The immediate challenge and opportunity lie in how we handle this convergence.

 For Namibia it is most important to keep all stakeholders at the table in order to discuss the way forward. Currently fractions follow their own agenda, for example by reviving the up-stream project of Kudu Gas without any integrated view what the gas will cost us and what the electricity will cost us when the down-stream infrastructure is added. Equally problematic seems to me that distributors like the City of Windhoek burden especially industrial clients with new ECB-approved levies like the new “network-access – charge”. Such charges will increase the tendency of clients to defect from the grid as battery storage becomes cheaper. Prosumer-clients should be valued as partners and communicated with accordingly.

The way forward: Our utility and distributors must accept that they have to adopt the role of smart grid operators. Everyone has to manage his specific “cell” in balancing generation and loads as far as possible by utilising distributed storage and other ancillary grid services – which could come from private operators – while complementing with other cells and NamPower as the “supplier of the last resort”. Storage capacity has to be marketed differently than energy. It can be compared with an insurance in that it costs extra money: one tries avoiding to use it but one must be able to resort to it. Electricity which runs through a storage system is always at least double as expensive than the one directly consumed. Thus we need new incentives to remunerate the provision of stored electricity. In short: market regulations for a flexible capacity market. Nobody must be left out when it comes to profitable market participation, but those with special obligations to render essential services – like NamPower and the distributors – must also not be expected to do this for free.

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