PlanetWire: Monthly round-up of transmission news around the globe

This month’s installment of TransmissionHub’s PlanetWire column highlights the Obama administration’s efforts to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as efforts by the transmission system operator in France to interconnect with Ireland and employ “smart substations.”

U.S. commits more than $7bn over next five years on new “Power Africa” initiative

President Barack Obama on June 30 announced a new initiative, Power Africa, to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa, with the United States committing more than $7bn over the next five years to the effort, according to a June 30 fact sheet from the White House.

More than two-thirds of the region’s population is without electricity, and more than 85% of those living in rural areas lack access. 

The fact sheet also noted that Power Africa will help countries develop newly discovered resources responsibly, build out power generation and transmission and expand the reach of mini-grid and off-grid solutions.

According to the International Energy Agency, sub-Saharan Africa will require more than $300bn in investment to achieve universal electricity access by 2030. 

With an initial set of six partner countries in its first phase, Power Africa will add more than 10,000 MW of cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity, and increase electricity access by at least 20 million new households and commercial entities with on-grid, mini-grid, and off-grid solutions, the fact sheet added. 

The U.S. and its partners will work with an initial set of Power Africa partner countries, such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania, which have set ambitious goals in electric power generation and are making the utility and energy sector reforms to pave the way for investment and growth. Power Africa will also partner with Uganda and Mozambique on responsible oil and gas resources management.

From policy and regulatory best practices, to pre-feasibility support and capacity building, to long-term financing, insurance, guarantees, credit enhancements and technical assistance, Power Africa will provide coordinated support to help African partners expand their generation capacity and access, the fact sheet added.

The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), for instance, will launch a $2m off-grid energy challenge to provide grants of up to $100,000 to African-owned and operated enterprises to develop or expand the use of proven technologies for off-grid electricity benefitting rural and marginal populations.

Among other things, the fact sheet also noted that Power Africa will help attract investment in Africa’s energy sector. The initiative includes an interagency Transactions Solutions Team to provide the catalysts needed to bring power and transmission projects to fruition by leveraging financing, insurance, technical assistance, and grant tools from across the U.S. government and its private sector partners.

Scientific American reported on July 2 that the Obama administration is showcasing the Soccket, a soccer ball that generates electricity and invented by Uncharted Play, a nine-person for profit social enterprise in New York City, as illustrative of the innovations in off-grid energy technologies that are possible, which have the potential to transform rural Africa through direct access to electricity in addition to the economic stimulus resulting from developing and launching successful products.

According to the Soccket’s Kickstarter page, 30 minutes of play will net three hours of light at 6 watts of power, the report noted.

UK government emphasizes ‘lights won’t go out’

The government in the United Kingdom says energy minister Michael Fallon is “fully behind” a National Grid consultation that could see big businesses paid to cut their energy usage in times of shortage, the BBC reported on June 28.

Energy regulator Ofgem has warned that the risk of power cuts has increased in the UK, but, the report noted, despite that, the government has emphasized that “the lights won’t go out.”

Electricity network owner National Grid has suggested that large consumers, including big shops and factories, could be asked to lower use during certain hours on weekdays in the winter, according to the report. Ofgem suggested keeping some mothballed power plants in reserve in case of emergencies.

“This does not mean that disruption is imminent or likely, but Ofgem, [the Department of Energy and Climate Change] and ourselves believe it appropriate to consider what measures could be taken in case margins deteriorate further,” National Grid said, the report added.

The department said that Fallon “is fully behind Ofgem and National Grid’s consultations which are about whether they should take the prudent step of extending their existing services in the context of possible tightening in the supply margin in the middle of the decade.”

It continued, “One option, if the need arose, would be for companies to voluntarily enter into agreements to fire up currently mothballed power stations or for large users to reduce their demand, in return for which they would receive payment.”

The report also noted that according to the department: “This is an extension of what already happens in the power market. There is no compulsion and it is not rationing.

System operator in France looks to interconnect with Ireland; launches ‘smart substation’ effort 

The two national transmission system operators, EirGrid in Ireland and RTE (Réseau de Transport d’Electricité) in France, have signed a memorandum of understanding to commission further preliminary studies on the feasibility of building a submarine electricity interconnector between Ireland and France, RTE said on June 3.

If developed, an Ireland-France interconnector would run between the south coast of Ireland and the northwest coast of France, and would comprise a cable length of about 600 kilometers. Over recent months, EirGrid and RTE have conducted studies that indicated that an interconnector between the two nations could benefit electricity customers in Ireland and France.

RTE added that by the agreement, the two operators will deepen their cooperation and conduct further detailed feasibility studies, which will focus this year on desktop analysis of the seabed to identify potential route corridors.

The capacity of the interconnector could be about 700 MW, RTE said, adding that last year, EirGrid completed construction on the 500 MW submarine East West Interconnector between Ireland and Wales.

On June 4, RTE said it and its partners have launched the “Smart Substations Project,” which involves using “cutting-edge” digital and optical technologies to optimize the capacities of substations, ensuring that they are better able to deal with the mass expansion of renewable energies.

The smart substation, which is equipped with a meteorological station, will be able to automatically adapt to climatic conditions. In the event of a line fault, it will analyze the situation and restore power quickly and independently when all lights are green, a capability known as “self-healing.” RTE also said that the substation will feature upgraded safety and cyber-security technologies.

The trial will be run at two substations located in the Somme, which has more wind farms than any other part of France, and will involve installing pioneering digital control-and-command solutions to provide advanced functionality.

The project is scheduled to last four years, with initial on-site testing beginning in the fall of 2015, and live operation within the main power system by the end of 2015. The technology will be rolled out across France in stages from 2020.

RTE added that it is coordinating the project, and the partners are Alstom Grid, Schneider Electric, Alcatel-Lucent, ERDF and Neelogy. The overall budget for the project is €32m, with about €9.7m of the necessary funding provided by the ADEME, or the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, according to the statement.

Abengoa to maintain two transmission lines, transporting more than 6,000 MW, in Brazil

Abengoa said on June 24 that it has been chosen to maintain two continuous current transmission lines, which will transport more than 6,000 MW of power generated by the hydroelectric plants on the River Madeira in Brazil.

Abengoa will be responsible for maintaining those infrastructures for five years, generating revenues of about €17.25m. The lines form part of the Madeira system, which with nearly 5,000 kilometers – 2,345 kilometers each line – will be the largest continuous current energy transmission system in the world.

The company also said that the lines, which will connect the substations in Porto Velho and Araraquara, will cover more than 100 municipalities in the states of Rondonia, Mato Grosso, Goiás, Minas Gerais and São Paulo. They will also cross the Pantanal Matogrossense, an area of biological diversity that is difficult to access and environmentally sensitive, as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Abengoa added.

Abengoa noted that it has carried out other projects for Brazil’s National Electricity Agency and was awarded three electricity transmission projects in May that will cover 2,920 kilometers.

Japanese company to study substation upgrades for Russian Grids in Russia

Japanese technology company Hitachi has signed a scientific and technological cooperation agreement with the electric power transmission and distribution company in Russia, Russian Grids, to provide technical cooperation on the modernization and stabilization of power distribution infrastructure, PennWell’s PennEnergy reported on June 24.

The agreement marks the first time that Hitachi has taken any non-consumer goods business into Russia.

The report also noted that the first project Hitachi will work on will be to investigate specific measures to enhance the efficiency and reliability of transmission and distribution networks in the Republic of Buryatia.

The project includes studying substation equipment upgrades, improvements to the energy efficiency of substation buildings and installations of grid stabilization systems designed to support renewable energy, according to the report.

ABB helps advance smart grid development in Iraq

ABB said on July 3 that it has won an order from LS Industrial Systems to deliver a utility communications solution that will serve seven electricity distribution control centers in Iraq.

ABB will deliver a communications system, capable of transmitting data from 428 distribution substations and 150 maintenance centers in the grid to seven regional control centers. The system, ABB added, will include broadband wireless radios to carry data and voice transmissions, ensuring reliable operation of the grid and supporting the speedy identification, isolation and resolution of faults.

The project is part of a larger infrastructure improvement initiative being carried out by the Ministry of Electricity in Iraq, designed to establish a dependable power network to support economic and social development in the country.

ABB further noted that communications play a key role in coordinating operations in electricity networks. It provides the high-performance data services required by most operational networks and supports multiple applications. For this project, that includes operational telephony and supervisory control and data acquisition services.

The high-capacity wireless communication network will bring a number of advantages to the grid, ABB added, noting that the radios can communicate over distances in excess of 50 kilometers to provide a scalable, highly flexible and cost-effective solution.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 2807 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 13 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at corinar@pennwell.com.