The Eskom Research, Testing and Development unit is embarking on a project that uses microgrid technology to provide electricity to rural areas in the Free State province.
According to Eskom, a microgrid demonstration plant is being constructed in a rural un-electrified village in the town of Ficksburg in the Free State.
A microgrid is a small electricity grid or network grid with control capability, allowing it to disconnect from the traditional national grid and operate autonomously. It relies on generation sources such as coal, wind, solar, micro hydro, gas, diesel and biogas generation.
A glue that binds the microgrid together is the smart grid concept of connected devices, which ties the generating sources and metering devices into a smart control environment. The Microgrid technology is able to make intelligent choices about what to switch on and off, what to curtail, and what tariff to apply, etc. This smart layer enables the microgrid to function autonomously and automatically, adds Eskom.
"The Ficksburg project is a demonstration of next-horizon technology that supports Eskom's future strategic objectives, as well as solving the energy challenges that we face as a country," says Barry MacColl, general manager of research, testing and development.
The energy utility says it sees microgrid applications as a suitable technology for this country and also large areas of Africa as a whole where electricity is currently not provided. Close collaborations between the Department of Agriculture, the community of Wilhelmina farm and Eskom RT&D, and the Smart Grid Centre of Excellence has led to the success of similar projects so far.
"The microgrid being deployed is a combination of renewable energy, energy storage, smart metering infrastructure and telecommunications systems, designed to function as a reliable source of electricity for the community," MacColl explains.
It is becoming more common to see hybrid microgrids that use a combination of carbon-based and renewable fuels to get the best out of both options, he adds.
"A village may be powered by photovoltaics during the day and a diesel generator after dark. Increasing energy storage is being considered as this gives the owner and operator of the microgrid more flexibility in choosing their generation mix and when to run what machines.
"Companies such as ABB and Eaton and many others are installing microgrids to run their factories or premises. This makes them less reliant on the national grid which for some of them is a risk mitigation decision. A community high in the mountains, deep in a sparsely populated area, far from the existing grid is a candidate for a microgrid study and possible project roll out," concludes MacColl.
The microgrid system is planned to be operational by the end of August.
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