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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)

Development of a Microgrid Research Center in Ethiopia to support USAID’s Power Africa program

PI: Belachew Gessesse ( or and co-PI Nigus Gabbiye Habtu,
Bahir Dar University
U.S. Partner: Suman Banerjee, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Project Dates: September 2014 to August 2017

The rate of electrification for rural Ethiopia is less than 1%, while 85% of the rural population is distributed in villages. Providing electricity access to such dispersed populations using the traditional electrification models based on centralized power systems is impractical from both the economic and engineering perspectives. The bottom-up electrification model using the technology of microgrids offers a competitive and practical alternative. This technology is just emerging, however, so there is a need for research, development, education, technology transfer, and business development before it can reach the technical maturity of the well-established centralized electrification model. This research project aims to bridge the gap by developing a microgrid research cluster in Ethiopia, centered at Bahir Dar University (BDU). Project activities will include development of analytical and technical research capabilities, a laboratory scale microgrid test-bed, a field-site proving ground, education, technology transfer, and outreach activities.

The emergent technology of microgrids operating in conjunction with well-established utility grids has been under development by various researchers around the world. However, its effective extension to rural electrification in remote areas poses particular challenges. In order to provide higher levels of resilience in the face of climate change, significant amount of energy should be drawn from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower. A higher level of variability of such sources on a daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal basis presents additional operational challenges in balancing supply and demand while ensuring reliable supply to customers. In addition, the microgrid needs to be equipped with a revenue settling mechanism among various power generating, power consuming, and service entities to create a sustainable energy ecosystem, leading to a business model that can grow in the absence of external subsidies with minimal overhead. Ethiopia is in step with the goals of the Power Africa program aiming to increase electricity generation in the country significantly by adding various centralized hydro, solar, wind and geothermal power plants, as well as large-capacity power transmission lines. However, this development has to be coupled with appropriate retail distribution models that are compatible with the realities of sparseness in geography and undeveloped markets in order to ensure that the capacity additions reach the target populations. This research project will identify appropriate capacity development in the technology of microgrids as the key enabler to set out an electrification pathway for the large percentage of people living in rural Ethiopia. The project will be leveraged with various ongoing activities at BDU, as well as by the U.S. collaborators.

Summary of Recent Activities

In the quarter ending June 2017, the prototype village was identified and construction and installation of the solar panel is already in progress. The site village is about 15 km away from Bahir Dar city called "Woramit village" with one elementary school and a health center. The school is named as "Lumame Elementary School" and the health center is "Woramit Health post". The construction of the solar panel structure is in progress at the elementary school campus. This site is geographically located at 11.6 degrees N (Latitude) and 37.3 degrees E (Longitude).

The total load of the village site is estimated as 5.03 kW out of which 1.74kW is for the school, 2.382kW for the Health post and 0.91kW for the households residing in the immediate vicinity of the site. The solar panel construction is to be completed within 20 days but other components of the microgrid such as wind turbine, batteries, and inverters of different types and sizes are still not available in local markets. The PI and his team are trying to acquire these through local dealers.

The prototype village site is planned to complete by the end of August 2017. Maximum effort will be made to purchase equipment necessary for the research lab. Exchange visit to the collaborating University is planned for the PI at the end of November for 20 days.

PEER Cycle 3 Grant Recipients