The wind in Mauritanian sails

The first wind farm in West Africa, Act II 

In a previous article we have seen that Nigeria and Mauritania are competing for the first wind farm in West Africa, respectively with a 10 and 4.4 MW project. Now it seems that Mauritania is taking the lead with a second project, but this time in premiere-league with 30 MW.

The Mauritanian industry and mining company SNIM, which hired Valorem to prepare the studies and to supervise the construction of the 4.4 MW wind farm in Nouadhibou at the extreme North of the country, is now planing to commission in October 2013 a second 30 MW wind farm south to the capital Nouakchott. Valorem offers again the engineering and consulting services. One can estimate the total investment to 45 million €, taking into account a nominal cost of 1,500 €/kW.

An ambitious project

The 2011 peak load of the Mauritanian interconnected network reached only 70 MW. At night during the cool season the load drops down to 25 MW, less than the wind farm installed capacity.

OMVS HV network

Hopefully Mauritania is interconnected with Senegal and Mali through a 225 kV single circuit overhead line being part of the OMVS network that was built to export the energy produced at the 200 MW hydro power plant located at Manantali in Mali (see opposite map).

There is therefore no technical issue to export the excess energy to the two neighboring countries, at the condition that the single HV circuit overhead line is available, which is not always the case.

For some people in Mauritania there is no need for export. Major industrial projects would soon grow in the desert. New factories would add enough electricity consumption so that there will be no excess energy to export. Fifteen years in Africa have shown me that projects developers and officials are extremely too optimistic when it concerns industries development. It would take years to start running the first factory in Mauritania.

One might object that same optimistic attitude is often adopted when estimating power plants project schedule. Fair enough. But SNIM particularly need more energy to develop its mining activities. Raw material international market prices are high. It is the right time to SNIM to invest in increasing its production. An incentive stronger than investing in factories in Mauritania. SNIM needs power to develop. They then have to build new power plants.

Two missing links

First, the Mauritanian utilities Somelec does not have a National Load Dispatch Centre (NLDC). The operation of the network is done manually (the operator uses a computer mouse to control active and reactive power production as well as circuit breakers. There is no automation) and power plants operators communicate on the phone. Yes, we live in the XXI Century. Shocking, isn’t it?

The good news is that another project of a new 120 MW power plant located north to Nouakchott is undergoing and also requires a NLDC. Somelec is well aware of the situation and is doing everything he can to find a solution to fund the  construction of the NLDC. One can reasonably hope that the NLDC will be ready before the wind farm.

Second, there is no network close to the wind farm location. 33 kV underground cables or overhead lines must be installed to connect it to Arafat substation, the closest one located 11 km away. The problem is that the substation is very old and in bad shape, and no spare feeders are available. Additionally it belongs to Somelec, not to SNIM. A new switchgear must then be installed. It wouldn’t be technically difficult because there is enough free space inside the substation fence. But an agreement shall be achieved between Somelec and SNIM (who pays for what? What belongs to whom?) Negotiation could require much more time than building the wind farm.

So, nothing technically insurmountable, but not easy to manage.

Missing business case

The major threat shall be searched out somewhere else. At which tariff shall be sold the energy produced by SNIM to Senelec and/or EDM, the Senegalese and Malian utilities? How much shall be paid to SOGEM, the OMVS operator, for using its network? And Somelec, what would be its share?

None of these crucial questions was yet raised. Why? Because they are extremely difficult to answer. On one hand, the legal frame is complicated, not only because of the implication of three countries, but mainly because the laws applicable to the energy sector are not prepared to address such a case.

On the other hand, it took ten years to the Senegalese, Malian and Mauritanian authorities to agree on energy tariff and respective allocation of the energy produced by Manantali. One can hope this time the negotiations between SNIM, Somelec, SOGEM, Senelec and/or EDM and the three national authorities will not last as long. But I am not sure it can be done before the wind farm produces its first kWh.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

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Smarter smart meters from Belgium

Belgium innovates

On 1st of March the Belgian utilities Electrabel launched in collaboration with fifthplay a new kind of smart meters. The basic idea is simple, but great and innovative. The proposed system enables end consumers to individually monitor, visualize, analyze and control the consumption of their electrical devices. Compared to common smart meters, which measure the total household consumption, it creates real added value.It is not strictly speaking a smart meter because it does not

replace the existing meter (analog or digital); it does not meter total household consumption and measures cannot be used for invoices. Functionally it is a domotic installation. But its use is smart grid and energy efficiency oriented. As it smartly meters consumer’s consumption, it deserves the title.

Electrabel is the historical utilities in Belgium, now part of the french holding GDF Suez.

Fifthplay is a tech co fully owned by Niko Group, a Belgian holding owned by the family De Backer. The original company Niko founded in 1919 and led today by the third generation is specialized in domotic solutions.

A new kind of smart meter

The design is nice and actual. Inspired by Apple? Anyway, it’s a good reference.

Gateway

The system includes:

  • Smart energy plugs
  • An internet gateway
  • A web application (for computer, tablet and smartphone).

This video clearly explains the concept, in French, sorry. Or check this one, in Flemish, if you prefer. Some info in English can be found here. More videos in French and Flemish here.

Smart Energy Plug

Smart energy plugs placed between the wall socket and the plug measure the consumption of individual electrical devices. Measurements are wirelessly sent to the internet gateway, which stores info and send it periodically to a remote server via internet (every 15 min). Through a web application or App, the end consumer can then:

  • Remotely monitor real-time consumption (15 min)
  • Program smart energy plugs (timer)
  • Remotely switch on and off smart energy plugs
  • Receive a warning via sms or e-mail in case of a sudden, unforeseen change in consumption.

An expensive gadget

Nice new tech, isn’t it? Now let’s look at economics of energy efficiency devices: investment and savings.

Investments. Electrabel is offering the Smart Energy Box at €139. Throughout the launch month of March 2012, customers will benefit from an introductory discount of €30. Add €3.50 for monthly subscription, i.e. €42 per year. Given a 3 years amortization of the initial capital investment, with the discount, and an average tariff of €0.18, one should save 435 kWh per year to cover the investment, plus the own consumption of the system, i.e. 10 to 20% of the yearly consumption of a benchmark family in Belgium. That’s quite a lot.

Savings. Marketers pretend that thanks to the tool end consumer can control and manage his own energy consumption. We all already do it without tools: we switch on and off when needed. One should neither be a genius nor being advised by a computer to know that consumption is reduced by switching off the light in an unoccupied room. I have no idea neither how much savings one can achieve thanks to the new tool, nor how to estimate them. do you? But I can tell it is peanut compared to the investment.

Market opportunity

The tools look great and functionalities are attractive. But fifthplay is not alone on the market. For instance Ijenko is proposing a similar solution, even broader as it includes also heating systems and security (smoke, motion and doors/windows opening/closing detectors).

Fifthplay’s long-term agreement with Electrabel is of course a good move to secure a big share of the Belgian market, to gather experience and a strong reference. But the international market is open and moving. Necessary technologies are not new and competitors would encounter no issue to develop similar devices. it will be a tough competitive market.

Not to mention there are cheaper solutions that can help you to optimize your electricity consumption (but without internet remote control): standby savers combined with power consumption data loggers offer a cheaper solution, without monthly subscription.

Prediction

Many similar solutions will shortly appear on the market (this prediction is an easy one: it is already the case). Marketers will pretend this is the new tool you need, that you will save money on your consumption bill. Journalists will be enthusiastic.

Few people like me will explain that it is too expensive and it doesn’t worth the investment. We will be criticized, for sure. Here, I hope. I would like to read your opinion. Do not hesitate to comment.

But at the end, it will end like smart meters today: far away from the foreseen success. Not so many end consumers will acquire the system. Enough to officially mention it is not a failure, but not enough to revolutionize the way we live. Criticisms will be voiced. For instance, that it inundates our house with even more wireless com, raising real or fanciful health issues. Until then, first movers companies will gain enough earning not to lose everything (pioneer advantage). Some will even make good money. But followers will lose, except the cheapest ones who will supply the tail of the life-cycle pattern (Growth-Slump-Maturity Pattern, see for instance chapter 14 of the book Marketing Management).

Finally, such tools will gently survive on the market thanks to tech fans not looking at economics. And tech companies will come with a new tool you and me cannot live without. The same story again…

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH