Brief on Ghana’s island-based renewable energy mini grid systems

Brief on Ghana’s island-based renewable energy mini grid systems
Source: Frank Yeboah Dadzie | Project Engineer |
Date: 21-07-2017 Time: 12:07:56:am
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Ghana’s main challenge in achieving universal energy access is the electrification of about 20% of its population living in mostly remote, rural and not easily accessible island and lake side communities. As part of the initiatives to overcome this challenge, five Solar PV and Wind powered Mini-grids with a total of 200 kW PV capacity (STC) have been built under the Ghana Energy Development and Access Project (GEDAP, providing 24/7 electricity service and enhancing income generating activities to a total population of around 3,500 in remote island communities on the Volta Lake in Ghana. The project is the first of its kind in Ghana to provide electricity to these areas. The contractors for the project are Techno TramaAmbiental (TTA) of Spain supported by GTS Engineering Services and Arthur Energy Advisors of Ghana.

All five communities are island based, at a distance of up to 2 hours motorboat drive from mainland, and inhabitants earning their living mainly by fishing, farming and basket weaving. The mini-grids serve various groups of clients; households, small commercial enterprises, schools and churches. The systems supply up to around 650 kWh/day of renewable and reliable electricity. The low voltage distribution grids consist of a 3-phase backbone feeder with single phase laterals connecting single phase loads at each customer premise. A dedicated line feeds high efficient LED street lamps throughout the villages improving community visibility and extending working hours.

The main manufacturers of the components used on the project are Studer Innotec (Charge Controllers and Inverters), Sunlight (batteries) and REC (PV modules).The systems are robustly built with Energy Management Systems by STUDER remote control and monitoring devices transfering constant data by mobile networks to backstopping service by Techno TramaAmbiental (TTA) in Barcelona, Spain. Long term technical sustainability is guaranteed since the national electricity operators will be made responsible for handling the Minigrids after the contractual two year O&M phase.

The project is community owned and beneficiaries continue to play a key role in the project. The beneficiaries provided the site for construction of the power house and there has been a close cooperation in all phases with the beneficiaries, allowing effective collaboration and transfer of knowledge from the contractors to the beneficiaries. Representatives of the communities were integrated in all activities including social studies, construction works, LV distribution grids installation, end-user connections and system management as an Energy Committee. Community dwellers have been trained and engaged in the O&M phase creating jobs in customer relations, service fee collection, service card recording, trouble shooting and energy efficiency assessment services

On a pre-paid monthly basis, the beneficiaries pay an amount based on their pre-contracted tariff class which is determined by their monthly expected energy and power needs. These amounts are saved to cater for future operational and maintenance activities on the systems. The systems are expected to be financially sustainable since the energy costs are determined as part of the national tariff system and the Energy Daily Allowance (EDA) smart metering ensures no defaults in payment. In addition, all components are of first-class renowned brands meeting highest international quality criteria and this significantly reduces the running cost of the systems. 

A key feature of this project is the modular design that allows the current capacity to be easily scaled up and a proposal for upscale has already been finalized. The five Mini-grids are seen as a demonstration project for the Government of Ghana. Particularly the mini-grid in Pediatorkope Island, a three hours trip from Accra, serves as a showcase to representatives from other West African countries. A program for 80 additional Mini-grids in Ghana is being finalized.

This project has led to significant improvement in the livelihood of the rural island dwellers in the areas of education, health, entertainment/information and economic empowerment. In most of the communities, application of the electricity supplied for corn-mill operation, extension of working hours of small businesses, freezing of fish and other food items and drinks among other economic activities have begun. The provision of electricity by the renewable energy powered Mini-grids has eliminated CO2 emissions caused mainly by the use of kerosene lanterns for lighting both for visibility and reading in the communities.

[This paper was first published on LinkedIn July 20, 2017]