The first wind farm in West Africa

Here we go

The French manufacturer Vergnet SA signed  in January 2011 a contract with the Mauritanian mining company Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (SNIM)  for sixteen 275 kW wind turbines, i.e. a total of 4.4 MW.

The German company Lahmeyer International GmbH claims on their website to “support West Africa’s first wind farm project” with thirty-seven 275 kW wind turbines, also furnished by Vergnet. The 10 MW Katsina wind farm is currently under construction in North of Nigeria.

I don’t know who’s the first. I don’t care. It is important that real projects develop and that wind farms grow in West Africa, and elsewhere.

Weak wind, weak development

One has to admit that wind potential in West Africa is limited. The best region is a narrow coastal band starting from Dakar in Senegal, up to Morocco, with typical wind speed of 5 to 6 m/s. Some spots display values up to 7 m/s.

On the contrary solar potential is high with solar radiation up to 6 kWh/m²/day. It explain the relative success of photovoltaic projects, in particular household systems.

What’s next?

The Mauritanian Government invites wind turbines suppliers to apply for a new project close to the capital Nouakchott. The installed capacity would be between 30 and 40 MW. The deadline for offer submission is on the 11.12.2011.

There is study after study in Senegal since many years. The first wind farm would probably be installed in the North, close to Saint-Louis. The installed capacity would be between 15 and 50 MW. The French Developing Agency (Agence Française de Développement – AFD) is on the tracks to finance to project.

Announcements of up to 200 MW of wind energy in Nigeria proliferate. But Katsina wind farm remains the only actual project.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

A dumb business model for smart meters

Smart meters? Why?

Utilities and suppliers hammer home the message that smart meter is useful. I do agree. They try also to convince private customers that it fits their personal needs and that it’s a good investment for them. I doubt it.

Let’s take an example. Given a household consumption of 4000 kWh/year at 0,23 EUR/kWh in Germany, 5% invoice decrease thanks to time-of-use (ToU) tariff, an additional monthly subscription of 2,50 EUR, and optimistic 10% of consumption savings, one can save up to about 100 EUR/year. But don’t forget that rates in Germany are amongst the highest in Europe. Average tariff in France is 0,13 EUR/kWh. Given a dual hourly rate resulting also in 5% invoice decrease, a customers information program to explain how to save the 10%, and an additional yearly subscription of 25 EUR, one saves more or less the same.

Does it justify an investment of several hundreds euros (smart meter price + installation costs)? No. The real justification is somewhere else.

As a consequence, the business model proposed by many utilities fails to convince customers in many countries. Customers are not dumb enough to pay for something they don’t really need. It is not the first time one try to sell useless devices. Sometimes with success, I have to admit. Many of us do not really need a smartphones, but at least it is a nice device that one can show to his friends. Invite a friend: “come with me in the cellar, I will show you my new smart meter, it’s fun”.

Private customers do not need smart meters

Utilities propound also non financial arguments (see for instance PG&E):

  • More reliable service: reliability is already high. In the last 10 years, I had only one supply interruption. It was planned and we get a post a few days before from the utility to warn us. How can be it be better? Utilities already do an excellent job.
  • See your daily energy use: who would do it daily? Ok, the first days it’s fun and somehow informative. But then. Why should we look at it every day? TV is much more exciting. Customers just want electricity when they need it. Switch on, light on. Not more.
  • Get Alerts About Your Usage: Same argument as above. Customers know when they need current. They don’t want a software telling them that their consumption habits are wrong.
  • More Choices in Pricing Plans: Being billed at different prices during different times of the day, is what utilities want, not customers. How would it be possible to compare utilities offers without knowing the price in advance? They will certainly sell us software to make the calculation for us. What is important for the customers is the yearly bill. The average cost of energy (EUR/kWh) shall be the smallest. This is the right financial objective.
  • Smart Devices and Smart Homes: Not only customers have to pay more for a smart meter, but they also have to invest in new appliances. The final bill could be difficult to digest.

There are more simple solutions to achieve the same goals. One can inform customers about good consumption habits. Thanks to dual hourly rate, many families turn on their washing machine in the evening since decades. When leaving a room, turn off the light. Etc. It is common sense. Smart customers do not need a smart meter for better managing their energy use. it can help, but it is not a must.

But utilities do

Smart meter is a good thing… for utilities.

  • Deregulation with market-driven pricing: Because of the deregulation of electricity generation sector, tariff paid by the utilities to the generation companies varies continuously. They would like to impact it to their customers. It would be easier.
  • Better Usage of Renewable Power: it is indeed a positive application of smart meters. But it is the responsibility of the government to encourage investment in renewable energies and of utilities to make the most of it. Not the customers.
  • Real-time load data: knowing the loads helps utilities to optimally operate their assets. Without the info, it would be difficult to supply millions of Electric Vehicles (EV), to smooth the load curve, to go beyond 20% of renewables, and to do it 24/24h 7/7 days without interruption. This is the major issue of smart meters.

What to do then?

My message to the utilities and their advisers: don’t lie to customers. Tell them that we, together, as a community, need smart meters. Our electrical appliances evolved and require better and safer supply (computers and electronics), new heavy loads are coming (EV), challenging the capacity and reliability of our aging infrastructure, mentality evolved (who is ready now to kindly accept interruptions lasting for hours). Smart meters are a piece of the puzzle of the grid of the future we need to build together to cope with our needs of the 21st century.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

Why is it so difficult to define “Smart Grid”?

Two simple words, many definitions

For the US Department of Energy, Smart grid generally refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation., the gateway to information on federal initiatives that support the development of the technologies, policies and projects transforming the electric power industry, tell us that the Smart Grid is a developing network of transmission lines, equipment, controls and new technologies working together to respond immediately to our 21st Century demand for electricity.

There is a dispute on Wikipedia. In the main article, a Smart Grid is defined as a digitally enabled electrical grid that gathers, distributes, and acts on information about the behavior of all participants (suppliers and consumers) in order to improve the efficiency, reliability, economics, and sustainability of electricity services.

For the Smart Grid News, the Smart Grid isn’t a thing but rather a vision and to be complete, that vision must be expressed from various perspectives – its values, its characteristics, and the milestones for achieving it.

Many other definitions are proposed.

Why is it so difficult to define it?

First, we don’t know who invents the term. No one can then pretend to have the original definition. It seems that it appears simultaneously in Europe and in the US in 2004. The following Ngram shows that it was first used in books in 2001. But its usage really began in 2006.

Second, the call for a smarter grid does not come from the power sector itself. It is external constraints and needs that pushed the concept forward:

  • Economy & market
  • Renewable energy sources
  • Protection of the environment
  • Politic.

If we add the aging of electrical infrastructures in the US, which time to time causes blackout like the Northeast blackout of 2003 which affected 10 millions people, as well as the Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEV) that should be soon supplied by millions, the list is completed.

The move towards smarter grids is more a reaction to threads than an action to improve.

Third, it became a marketing slogan. Any new product is now labelled smart grid. Even new version of old products, without major improvement.

Fourth, the term smart can be differently interpreted. The use of such a vague concept doesn’t help. It sounds like a marketing tagline.

Difficult is not synonym of impossible

In another article, we will propose our definition. It is not a simple task, but we will see together that by broaden the vision, the definition becomes obvious (I hope).

Gauthier Dupont

NAS batteries production on hold

NGK INSULATORS, LTD. has published today a Q&A on the NAS battery fire. They decided to suspend NAS batteries production and asked all customers to stop using already installed Batteries Energy Storage Systems (BESS).

This is bad news, not only for NGK, but for the whole grid-scale batteries sector. In an emerging sector, it is good for nobody when a major actor suffers from such an incident. It risks to discredit any type of grid-scale batteries, especially if opponents to the installation of large-scale batteries exploit the event. Personally, I hope they will rapidly find the cause and be able to resume the production.

NGK directly took the decision to ask their customers to stop using already existing BESS. Was it the right decision? Is NGK too cautious? Not every company would take this decision in similar situation. Look at Chernobyl and Fukushima. Many nuclear power plants are still running. Planes crash occasionally. Do we stop flying? Even wind generators burn and fall down, sometimes injuring people. Do we stop building them?

I know the situation is not exactly the same. But one should consider that their were no casualties. And it would not be the case if another batteries should burn again. BESS are completely automated and remotely monitored. They do not contain explosive components.

Was it wise to stop the production and the operation for one fire, while more than 300 MW of NAS batteries are installed around the world without major problem until now? The decision was premature. No one asked NGK to act so tragically. Stopping the production, ok. On a purely business point of view, it makes sense to wait for the identification of the cause, and then to adapt the processes to solve the problem. At the condition that it lasts not too long. But stopping existing BESS that are running since several years without any incident, it is excessive.

Unfortunately, it is too late. The decision was published. NGK put themselves in a difficult situation. And what would happen if the cause would never be identified?

Gauthier Dupont