What Africa Can Teach The U.S. About Energy Microgrids

What Africa Can Teach The U.S. About Energy Microgrids

Almost 20 percent of the world’s population could leapfrog the Age of Edison entirely and enter the 21st century of electricity generation, according to Jim Rogers, former CEO of Duke Energy, the largest electric power company in the U.S.

Considered an electricity infrastructure visionary, Rogers identifies and develops solutions for businesses and communities in both rich and poor countries in his book, “Lighting the World: Transforming our Energy Future by Bringing Electricity to Everyone,” EnvironmentalLeader reported.

Reverse engineering

Microgrids are fast becoming “a harbinger of energy trends as more and more companies and campuses with sensitive operations need a continuous flow of power,” Rogers said.

“What Africa can perhaps teach us,” according to Rogers, “is an acceleration of the microgrid… The U.S. will learn from Africa how to go back to the future.”

Why back to the future?

Because when electricity first started in the U.S. and the grid was being laid down in the early 1900s “what we really had was a lot of little microgrids… and we connected them all together to create the grid we have today,” he said. “Similar to the way that African villages are acquiring and implementing off-grid systems, our businesses, neighborhoods, and homes can become a microgrid as well.”

The future of electricity generation will include renewable energy,  Rogers said. “It is cheaper and more feasible to build solar, perhaps coupled with storage, rather than try to replicate our capital-intensive 20th century power system.”

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The microgrid, incorporating solar and storage technology, is an important part of our future, according to Rogers.

So what is a grid anyway?

An electric grid is a network of synchronized power providers and consumers connected by transmission and distribution lines and operated by one or more control centers, according to WhatIs.com. When most people talk about the power “grid,” they’re referring to the transmission system for electricity.

The continental U.S. does not have a national grid. Instead, there are three grids: the Eastern Interconnect, the Western Interconnect and the Texas Interconnect. In Alaska and Hawaii, several smaller systems interconnect parts of each state.

A microgrid is a small energy system of distributed energy sources including demand management, storage, and generation capable of operating parallel to — or independently from — the main power grid, according to GeneralMicrogrids.

Africa’s main challenge is to develop a business plan that can be scaled up for 1.2 billion people to gain access to electricity in the next decade, according to EnvironmentalLeader. Rogers promotes self-sufficiency and giving communities the ability to participate in the global arena.

Africa is littered with products that have been given “free,” Rogers said. He suggests a business plan for a kind of franchised model so that the power can be locally owned and managed.