Strengthening Power Grids in Somalia with Digital Technology

A wind and solar power station in Garowe, Somalia.

Consumers in Somalia pay some of the world’s highest prices for electricity. Private energy service providers (ESPs) charge up to $0.65 per kilowatt-hour to deliver electricity through isolated diesel-powered grids that are unreliable and have a large carbon footprint. Even at these high prices, many ESPs fail to recover the costs of generation and delivery. (For comparison, the highest price of electricity paid in the U.S. is in Hawaii where consumers pay $0.34 per kilowatt-hour.)

This leads to a vicious cycle of poor cost recovery, underinvestment in infrastructure, and frequent power outages. ESPs have little information on their grids and consumer energy use, which makes it difficult to make strategic decisions or targeted improvements. High prices and customers without meters lead to theft and contribute to technical and non-technical losses that can be as high as 40 percent among some ESPs.

The National Electric Corporation of Somalia (NECSOM) sees the value in transitioning to renewable energy and smarter infrastructure to take decisive climate action and reduce their cost of power.

“Adding solar and wind is not just an environmental decision for us,” said Abdiwahab Abshir, NECSOM Head of Business Development. “Fuel contributes significantly to the overall cost of our energy generated from diesel generators. A reduction in the proportion of diesel generation would lead to significant reduction in the cost of energy.”

A wind and solar generation station in Garowe, Somalia.

Power Africa supports Somalia’s clean energy transition to address cost and reliability. Through targeted support to ESPs like NECSOM, Power Africa is improving the investment readiness of the sector and developing feasibility studies to evaluate new technology and business models.

As part of this workstream, Power Africa supported a business development mission to Somalia by U.S. digital energy technology company SparkMeter. As a result of this visit, NECSOM decided to pilot SparkMeter’s technology on their 20,000-customer distribution network. The deployment of digital solutions in this energy system wracked by losses, delivery challenges, and high prices offers an exciting chance to prove the value of utility digitalization.

Solutions

Power Africa and SparkMeter met with Somali ESPs, and developed five actionable recommendations that are now being implemented with NECSOM’s pilot of SparkMeter’s solution.

1. Implement digitized and flexible billing processes, such as pay-as-you-go, to make sure that all consumed energy is billed. This reduces instances of past due payments and pending invoices.

With smart metering technology, ESPs will never need to manually read meters again. Meters will be automatically read, which means that three challenges — incorrect bills, late bills, and late payments — will be easily solved.

2. Use monitoring at the transformer level to automatically calculate system losses on every branch of the grid.

Unlike a meter manufacturer, SparkMeter provides a complete solution to grid management, including a device called a grid monitor. Grid monitors are placed at low-voltage transformers or on distribution network branches. SparkMeter’s software compares the total energy readings from the grid monitors to the energy consumption of the downstream customers, allowing utilities to easily view system losses in near real-time at every point on their network.

A graphic showing SparkMeter grid monitors installed at the transformer level and attributed to specific branches.

3. Use “digital twin” technology and data to plan for improvements like transformer replacements and reduce maintenance issues.

A “digital twin” is an innovative idea in the utility industry to empower utilities with new insights about the status, operation, reliability, and cost-effectiveness of their grid.

By bringing together geospatial data on the grid with accurate models of each of the grid’s parts — transformers, lines, switches — the utility can see power flows and whether any components are operating outside of their ratings. A digital twin can also be used to make predictions and forecasts. Somalia and Somaliland’s ESPs can quickly adopt these new technologies by working with SparkMeter to bring smart meter data into a digital twin.

A screenshot showing grid analytics in a geographic information system.

4. Use software powered by meter data to immediately see when and where grid events occur. Using this data, utilities can respond quickly and effectively during outages.

Most software made by smart meter manufacturers only provides utilities with a way of reading energy data and configuring meters. SparkMeter’s software is different because it has tools to help utilities to understand and use that data, allowing them to take action. For example, the utility can easily see the history of outages of a particular customer, along with that customer’s current status. So, when a customer calls the utility with a complaint, the utility can immediately see how power is being delivered to that customer in easy to digest dashboards.

5. Provide customer communication that gives customers control with specially-built web applications and two-way SMS messaging.

The utility sector in Somalia and Somaliland is privatized and highly competitive. ESPs work hard to establish themselves as the primary provider in their areas, so customer satisfaction is extremely important. With SparkMeter’s online tools, ESPs can easily give customers information about their payments and consumption. SMS alerts can be set up to tell customers about outages and allow them to text ESPs for information like the amount of credit in their account. This unique tool will have a large impact on customer satisfaction.

These technologies enable transformative change among distribution utilities in tough operating environments and in comparatively more developed markets.

“Digital technology, like SparkMeter’s, can create virtuous cycles of improved collections, system reinvestment, and performance improvement, even in utilities operating in the most challenging conditions,” said Dan Kammen, Power Africa Senior Advisor for Energy, Climate & Innovation. “We’re excited to see the results of NECSOM and SparkMeter’s pilot, and we hope to fold the results into future programs,” he said.

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Power Africa

Power Africa

A U.S. Government-led partnership that seeks to add 30,000 MW and 60 million electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 > https://bit.ly/2yPx3lJ