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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 February 2019

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

The main objective of this project was to develop a microgrid research center at Bahir Dar University by establishing a laboratory scale microgrid test-bed and a field-site proving ground in the village nearby Bahir DAR city.

The establishment of a laboratory scale microgrid test-bed and the prototype microgrid took longer time than anticipated time for several reasons including poor procurement system, hard currency shortage in the country (Ethiopia), devaluation of currency during the project period, fund limitation were among many other challenges. Besides all these challenges, with an unreserved effort of the project team, both objectives were realized with basic microgrid components.
Realization of the laboratory scale microgrid at Bahir Dar University and the construction of prototype microgrid in the village near Bahir Dar city has a significant impact in serving as rural electrification model. This will help universities and technical colleges to focus their research and education in the power and energy engineering programs on the advantages of realization of the microgrid concept. This also helps universities to start programs in this field.

The newly constructed and commissioned prototype microgrid at Woramit village near Bahir Dar city is an example to promote the concept of microgrids and bring electricity access to rural populations. With this electricity access higher quality lighting has been made possible which enables children and women to have learning opportunities in the evening session thus increasing literacy and education levels among the population. This also practically provides access to technology tools that include TVs, computer, internet, mobile charging, etc Moreover, both the development of research lab and prototype microgrid will have high promotion role in the dissemination of the microgrid concept for rural electrification and in beginning to develop a university-level research program in the field of a microgrid. Previously MSc students' research on the topic of microgrid was based on only simulation software like Matlab/Simulink, Homer, with no practical implementations. Now the research lab can serve for students to conduct practical research on the topic of microgrid based electrification.

PEER Cycle 3 Grant Recipients