According to the World Bank, 600 million people in Africa, 43% of the continent, lacked access to electricity in 2022. Africa’s persistent energy challenge, aggravated by its vast landscapes, diverse geographical conditions, and countless isolated rural communities, points to the potential of microgrids as a beacon of hope that can power even the most remote villages to end the continent’s energy poverty.
For example, Siemens recently partnered with Lamo Solar, the Eastern Cape Province, and GIZ Germany to introduce an independent microgrid in the remote village of Upper Blinkwater in South Africa’s Eastern Cape to provide electricity to 70 homes. The system provides enough energy for each household to run a mobile phone charger, TV and satellite dish, and a kettle. There are also some communal washing machines and a few commercial machines.
Sabine Dall’Omo, CEO of Siemens in Southern and Eastern Africa, says The Upper Blinkwater project mirrors South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010-2030 objectives, which expects renewable energy sources to power 42% of all new-build generation capacity.
“Microgrids offer a localised method of generating, storing, and distributing power, and can thrive in the harshest environments and benefit remote or challenging African terrains This project demonstrates this technology’s potential to address Africa’s electricity challenge and our commitment to investing to improve more lives. We hope this success story inspires other businesses to join us in driving sustainable electrification and transforming Africa into a land of opportunity for all.”
Harnessing the power of technology
The Upper Blinkwater story is a testament to what the continent can achieve when innovation meets purpose, setting a stellar example for other remote villages worldwide. Siemens developed the project to test a decentralised, sustainable energy supply concept for rural settlements underserved by grid electricity. The digital solutions company used a hybrid microgrid system based on renewable energies and diesel backup to provide an alternative electrification model.
As a result, the remote community, which lacked access to South Africa’s national power grid, now incorporates a 75KWp photovoltaic (PV) system, a diesel generator, and a battery storage system, all controlled by a Siemens SICAM Microgrid Controller.
The Microgrid Controller manages the energy sources and load distribution, ensuring optimal electricity utilisation. This technology guarantees a sustainable and climate-neutral energy supply for essential household needs, from mobile charging and lighting to connecting appliances, with about 90% of the electricity coming from the PV system.
Dall’Omo adds, “A distinguishing factor of this initiative is that it addresses two crucial challenges – rural electrification and climate change. It aligns with Siemens’ DEGREE framework – a comprehensive approach focusing on decarbonisation, ethics, governance, resource efficiency, equity, and employability. We acknowledge our responsibility toward creating a sustainable future, aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and this project is a proud reflection of this commitment.”
The Blinkwater success story
The Upper Blinkwater project has illuminated homes, ignited economic growth, and opened educational opportunities in this remote village. Access to electricity supply has triggered remarkable economic activities within the community. Local businesses can now use renewable energy to create quality products that contribute to comfort and education. It is a bold step towards breaking the cycle of poverty by providing opportunities for economic growth and improved living conditions.
Community member and carpenter Kurt Swartbooi says, “There was no life or work in this community before this project. People used to fetch wood in the bush to make fires to cook, make coffee or tea, and even boil water to wash. I now own a business and wish the same for other communities that don’t have electricity.”
Tshibvumo Sikhwivhilu, the Co-founder and CEO of Lamo Solar, adds, “When we came across the Siemens Microgrid Controller, we didn’t have a shadow of a doubt that this was the intelligent solution we needed to transform the community. It was a place that was dead silent, with just a lot of smoke from people cooking over fires. Today, you walk into a community with countess opportunities and fresh air because households aren’t cooking with charcoal.”
Replicating the Blinkwater microgrid project across Africa
Sikhwivhilu says it’s been amazing to see the economic activity that has spiralled out of the provision of electricity. It’s been incredible seeing how young people can access information on their phones, tablets, and laptops because they can charge those devices from home, opening a new world of opportunities.
“What we’ve achieved here with Siemens brings immense pride and a hunger to do more. Now more than ever, we must duplicate what we’ve accomplished in this small community. The technology is there for us to provide electricity to communities that lack access and help end energy poverty. Siemens has proven its ability to bring stakeholders together to achieve this goal,” he says.
Upper Blinkwater is not an isolated case. Countless other rural villages throughout Africa are not connected to the electricity grid, excluding them from many opportunities to live, trade and communicate with each other. Microgrid solutions enhance the sustainability of these smaller remote communities, boost local economies, and improve residents’ quality of life.
Siemens says this successful project is part of its plan to expand its microgrid solution to other communities and businesses that want to lower their emissions and achieve their decarbonisation goals.
Dall’Omo concludes, “Siemens, through its steadfast commitment to local value creation, has transformed Upper Blinkwater into a beacon of hope and development. This initiative underlines our unwavering dedication to addressing socio-economic challenges, from energy poverty to unemployment and education. This is a step towards breaking the continent’s cycle of poverty and is an incredible example of how technology can create a brighter future for local communities.”