ABB technology helps bring power to the people of Africa

Innovative ABB solutions continue to empower, connect and “enlighten” remote communities and growing cities on the continent

About 1.4 billion people worldwide still have no access to electricity. Almost half of them live in Africa. In some cases, accessing electricity can be life-saving, like the village that can finally store yellow fever vaccine reserves safely in small refrigerators. In others, it means that families can cook at night and children can study after dark without running down battery-powered flashlights or using harmful kerosene lamps. In every way, installing electricity lays the groundwork for communities in Africa to grow and thrive in the modern world.

But while the need for electricity on the African continent is great, installing it has historically presented a range of challenges. The extreme remoteness of many villages and the long distances between remote renewable energy sources and high demand urban centers are just some of the challenges of bringing clean electricity to where it’s most needed.

In response to these challenges, ABB has several innovative and cost-efficient solutions. In Namibia, for example, the 950-km long, 300 megawatt (MW) Caprivi link connects the electricity grids of Namibia and Zambia, to ensure reliable power transfer between the eastern and western regions of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP). HVDC Light (VSC) technology helps to stabilize these weak power networks. Usually, VSC links run underground or underwater, but this 350 kV overhead link was a world first, designed to suit the terrain and more significantly keeping costs in check.

ABB’s HVDC technology also enables the integration of renewable energy sources and the efficient transmission of electricity over long-distances, like the Cahora Bassa (Songa-Apollo) link that trans-mits 1,920 MW of clean power across 1,420 km from a hydropower plant on the Zambezi River in northern Mozambique to high-consumption areas in South Africa. Similarly, the 1,700 km Inga-Kolwezi HVDC link transmits power from Inga Falls on the Congo River to the copper mining district of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In some cases, electricity is close but still inaccessible. In seven remote villages in the DRC, for instance, residents could see large power lines passing above their homes but, ironically, had no access to electricity because they were too small to warrant building of grid infrastructure. By constructing innovative micro substations, ABB engineers figured out a way to draw power from the overhead lines and literally light up the lives of village residents for first time. Now, children can study after dark and residents can feel secure walking after sunset.

In several places where connecting to a larger grid is not feasible, ABB, a pioneer in microgrids, has provided ground-breaking solutions. Microgrids integrate multiple, often variable energy resources and supply loads by operating in a controlled, coordinated way, typically located at or near the place where energy is used. They have the advantage of being quick to build and can operate either stand-alone or partially grid connected. In sunny or windy places, microgrids can be powered by renewable energy, such as solar farms or wind turbines.

At the world heritage Robben Island site, an ABB microgrid integrates solar energy and significantly cuts down the use of diesel to power the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. In Kenya, ABB installed a microgrid at the remote Marsabit Wind Farm, helping the remote community access vital services and supporting the country’s goal of providing electricity to the majority of its citizens by 2020.

ABB has also installed a microgrid in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, to power a large logistics hub of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to provide respite from frequent outages and power quality issues. The ICRC center employs 170 employees delivering food and other essential items like medicines and relief supplies across the African continent. And ABB installed an innovative solar-diesel microgrid at its own 96,000 square foot Longmeadow facility in Johannesburg, South Africa, to address power shortages, fossil fuel price volatility and environmental responsibility.

ABB’s Distribution Management technology monitors and controls power supply in real-time, keeping the lights on for millions of households and commercial businesses in South Africa by delivering reliable electricity to Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg, East London, Johannesburg and Witbank. In other areas of South Africa, ABB is implementing smart-city technology solutions. In Durban, one of the country’s major manufacturing hubs and busiest port, ABB provided seamless wireless network connectivity to an industrial area, strengthening the network to cope with the harsh tropical climate and heavy rains.

As part of its commitment to enable sustainable mobility, ABB has provided substations to power rail networks like the Gautrain line in Johannesburg and is helping to connect remote areas of Ethiopia to neighboring countries by enabling power supply to the Awash-Kombolcha-Hara Gebaya line.

There is the old saying that “Necessity is the mother of invention.” If that’s true, then ABB has a lot of children in Africa.

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About the author

Mauro Damonte

Mauro Damonte has a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and an MBA in Business Administration. Mauro joined ABB in 1997 and since then has held different managerial position, including Local BU Manager Power Generation Italy, Local BU Manager Substation Switzerland, Country Manager ABB in Libya and Country Manager ABB in Iran. Currently he is the Local Sales and Marketing Manager responsible for the Power Grids Division in South Africa and Southern Africa.
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