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Can Batteries Improve the Reliability of Nigerian Electricity?

Anyone who is exploring the transition to smart grids must consider reliability. A grid is reliable when it can provide electricity consistently when needed. Grid reliability is a prevalent issue in many developing countries, including Nigeria. Apart from the unreliable grid power, which is predominantly generated from thermal sources, renewable energy sources of power such as solar and wind provide intermittent supply due to the nature of those sources. For instance, the sun shines more during the day. Therefore, the amount of solar energy generated is higher during the day. This period is known as ‘Peak Sun Hours’. Wind power also fluctuates due to the fluctuating nature of wind speeds.

This situation makes it necessary to explore technologies that enable reliable power, regardless of their source of electricity and availability per time. When such technologies are available and accessible to consumers, clean energy can be used regularly without relying on pollutive alternatives. An example of such technology is the battery.

What is a Battery?

A battery is a device used to store electrical energy. This device converts chemical energy to electrical energy (electricity) and vice versa. There are many applications of this technology, and electric power storage is a major one.
As the world transitions to more renewable sources for electricity production, access to generated output becomes difficult due to the dependence on natural elements. For example, when relying on solar panels, production is limited to the amount of ultraviolet (UV) rays available at any given time. As a result, there tends to be an overproduction of electricity during high solar power production periods, and the demand is usually lower than the available supply. What then happens after the period of production surge passes? Do we waste the produced electricity or store it for use at a later time? Naturally, one would respond to the latter, and that is why we need batteries.
Batteries help ensure that natural resources are maximised by ensuring that excess energy is conserved for periods where the demand surpasses the existing production. This reasoning can be applied to other natural sources like wind energy.

Read also: Rising the Energy Access Ladder

Why Batteries?

The subject of scarcity is popular in economics. It suggests that there are limited resources and unlimited wants. Although this is an economic principle, it is also an issue that needs to be addressed in the energy industry.
Over the past few decades, there has been a huge focus on combating pollution from energy sources to build sustainable societies. This battle led to the emergence of alternative energy sources, most of which are derived from naturally occurring resources like wind, sun, biomass etc. However, as with all naturally occurring resources, there are seasons and periods, which have created scarce resources. For example, solar energy can be classified as a scarce resource because it is only produced during specific times – with sunny weather. Therefore, there is a need to maximise the limited resource to ensure availability without the sun. The use of batteries is a tried and true method to maximise solar power.

Batteries are devices that store excess energy for use in periods of low production. This technology is necessary because:
1. It provides the flexibility needed to manage the evolving grid. In addition, batteries help to manage load shifting and peak hours shaving for end-users.
2. It reduces the amount of waste associated with the introduction of new alternative renewable sources.
3. It provides redundancy and reliability to the grid.
4. It provides stability to the grid.
5. It can also help condense the size of a traditional power plant due to the sizing specifications.
6. It can serve as a hub that connects multiple microgrids.

It is obvious how important batteries are to the smooth operation of the power grid. But is it possible to incorporate such in Nigeria’s grid electricity system?
Getting Batteries on Nigeria’s Electricity Grid

The most popular type of batteries in Nigeria are electrochemical batteries, also known as lead-acid batteries. These are mostly used for inverters and the likes on a small scale – mainly individual residences and small businesses.
Now, imagine that technology being scaled and implemented by the electric utilities. Such an application could take years to accomplish due to the current nature of the infrastructure and the huge reliance on the traditional grid. However, there are existing processes for phased integration that can be applied to off-grid renewable solutions. There is an emergence of solar farms across the nation, which form clusters of microgrids.

Working with this existing infrastructure offers an opportunity to integrate this technology into the already existing electrical systems. Proper sizing is important to integrate batteries into the already existing electricity solutions. Batteries need to be sized to provide adequate electricity during peak demand periods with some extra allowances for demand surges.
As the technology is integrated into the microgrids structure, these microgrids can feed into the grid or operate isolated from the grid. When integrated into the grid, these microgrids with battery storage can eliminate the pressure from the utilities to complete the transition before a full launch of the grid. Microgrids also help with greatly reducing transmission losses because the distance of delivery is significantly reduced and can be properly managed, thus ensuring that the majority of the electricity produced is delivered.

This implementation method will push for a decentralised power supply and ensure that every avenue of distributed generation is explored for improved redundancy and reliability. There would also be partnerships between the utilities and microgrid operators, where operators are paid an agreed amount to provide excess electricity to the grid. If this approach is utilised, the cost of entry will be significantly reduced.

Apart from using batteries for microgrid electricity storage, other alternative applications that can be explored include:
1. Hydro Pump systems (HPS)- integration of hydro sources for power generation, batteries, and solar panels.
2. Ultra Capacitors – They offer long lifetimes, high reliability and quick charging and discharging characteristics.
3. Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) – not as efficient due to losses.
4. Concentrated Solar Panels – technology not fully advanced.
5. Phase Change Materials – technology is in the introductory stages.
The majority of these alternatives are not fully developed, and as such, batteries remain the most feasible technology for electricity storage.

Consistent & Reliable Electricity in Nigeria?

Exploring battery technologies and their impact on developing the grid’s resiliency shows that it is possible to have consistent & reliable electricity in Nigeria. Battery technology will be key to enabling this transition and is worth exploring.
Adapting this technology to the Nigerian grid is also possible and not as complicated due to the various offshoots of microgrids and off-grid solar farms in the communities.
However, to begin adopting this technology, clusters of solar farms would have to be integrated. Battery solutions need to be designed based on the various loads of these clusters, and all user data should be tracked through smart meters. This approach will:
1. Give a perceived baseline;
2. Help determine how much electricity is stored in the batteries over a period; and
3. Help determine how much electricity can be reasonably shared with the electric grid based on demand.
Highlighting the parameters listed above will ensure that when designing the grid interconnections with the various distributed generation resources, utilities can determine a fair price for operators participating in the transition program and properly plan a scaling strategy for the various regions as smart grid is introduced. Overall, consistent & reliable electricity using battery technology is attainable in Nigeria; however, proper planning is required for execution.

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