Smart Grid, anyone? : All things Tech considered

On a recent trip back home, it was a bit unnerving to be ambushed by a power interruption just when I had my entire evening well planned! Aside from the obvious fact that Rwanda has its hands full with the need to increase wattage to address the issue of electricity capacity deficits (we all can’t wait for the 100MW boost from our very own Kivu methane gas), it is paramount that the electricity supply infrastructure is designed to increase capacity as well as reduce power blackouts.

On a recent trip back home, it was a bit unnerving to be ambushed by a power interruption just when I had my entire evening well planned!

Aside from the obvious fact that Rwanda has its hands full with the need to increase wattage to address the issue of electricity capacity deficits (we all can’t wait for the 100MW boost from our very own Kivu methane gas), it is paramount that the electricity supply infrastructure is designed to increase capacity as well as reduce power blackouts.

One way to do this would be to have a smart electric grid; one might think I am shooting for the stars here given where our power network lies today; but why not?

A smart grid is basically a power grid with embedded intelligence and real-time automation; that means it would monitor how efficiently the system is delivering power to us and send feedback to the operator in real time. With the current grid, EWSA (that generates and distributes most of our power), most often doesn’t know what is happening on their network in real time. With a smart grid, the power network would be reliable because the smart system would have sensors in place-embedded intelligence-that could re-route power to avoid a blackout. Lack of power reliability costs businesses money and we cannot afford that given the direction the nation is going. Another cherry on the cake is that with a smart grid, a window is left open to embedding renewable energy into the network efficiently-something that cannot be done reliably with a ‘dumb grid’.

One downside to having a smart grid is, just like the Internet, the power network can be hacked; security is therefore a high priority. Another downside lies in the cost to the taxpayer-it is a costly investment and investments have to be made into transforming the electricity infrastructure as well as changing the attitudes of the population; since EWSA is a government body, this might be a little easier than if it was in the private sector as the government can set up policies and directives to encourage this move. It might be disheartening to pour money into such an expensive venture, but given how much we (and the whole world) rely on energy, renewing our power lines is not too much to ask.

Now, I must admit that I am not well versed with the modus operandi at EWSA currently (and there was not much online to go by) and there are naysayers going to throw tomatoes at me screaming “Rwanda is not ready for this”; I know we have not yet reached full maturity in terms of renewable energy sources and that we need energy infrastructure first before we ride the lofty horse of a smart grid but my argument is that as we make our energy infrastructure robust, we should think of integrating technology that will make it infallible. We may not do this now, or in twenty years, but at some point we ought to get uncomfortable with the status quo and explore a technology that prevents overload, supports dynamic pricing, allows for power storage and encourages us to put solar panels on our roofs. Okay, you don’t really need to drill a solar panel onto your roof but if the prospect of reliable power does not get your juices running, well…always keep a pack of candles within reach.

akintore@gmail.com

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