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We created the first AI-powered solar electricity backup system for houses in sub-Saharan Africa: here’s what we learned

Writer : Masoud Salehiborujeni, Senior Analysis Affiliate in Computing Science, College of East Anglia

When the collapse of Zimbabwe’s electrical energy grid on December 14 2021 plunged many of the nation right into a blackout, Zimbabweans feared that they must spend Christmas in the dead of night. A lot to their reduction, two days later, the utility firm restored a significant energy station and introduced that there could be “minimal scheduled energy cuts in the course of the festive season”.

Sadly, resulting from weak and burdened energy grids, outages are widespread in sub-Saharan African nations. Those that can afford it are inclined to spend money on backup methods to make sure entry to electrical energy.

Regardless of their excessive operational and environmental prices, diesel turbines have proved the most well-liked selection. Sadly, the choice – utilizing renewable power sources as a backup – is usually seen as unreliable, since wind and daylight are inherently intermittent.

But sub-Saharan Africa is without doubt one of the areas with essentially the most photo voltaic power technology potential on the planet, because of its comparatively low cloud cowl and excessive daylight depth. Which means methods to reliably harvest this free, clear photo voltaic power to energy the grid with out air pollution are desperately wanted.

Together with engineers from Ulster College, we’ve developed an clever photo voltaic backup system powered by synthetic intelligence (AI) to help sub-Saharan Africa’s utility grids.

What we made

Our system is related each to the grid and to a battery that may retailer electrical energy to again up the family the place needed. Because it’s designed for a area the place particular person electrical water heaters are generally used – the truth is, they account for as much as 40% of whole family electrical energy consumption – the system additionally features a photo voltaic scorching water machine, which makes use of photo voltaic radiation to immediately pre-heat water while not having electrical energy.

A world map of solar power potential

This map exhibits the excessive solar energy potential of sub-Saharan Africa.
The World Financial institution, International Photo voltaic Atlas 2.0, CC BY-NC-SA

To make sure that the backup system reliably supplies electrical energy, an autonomous AI-based management system takes cost of battery utilization.

By analysing the anticipated quantity of power produced by the photo voltaic panels and electrical energy wanted by the family alongside the standard frequency and length of blackouts, the AI makes positive that sufficient backup electrical energy is out there within the battery at any second by storing extra in periods of excessive photo voltaic depth. When the battery is full, that surplus electrical energy can be utilized to warmth water or may even be offered again to the grid.

Utilizing information collected from households in each Zimbabwe and Botswana, simulations evaluating our clever photo voltaic backup system with a typical diesel generator demonstrated the prevalence of our photo voltaic answer.

A graph comparing solar and diesel electricity demand
Our analysis exhibits that utilizing a photo voltaic backup system dramatically reduces electrical energy demand on the grid.
Masoud Salehiborujeni, Writer supplied

First, our system meets strict electrical energy reliability and scorching water temperature parameters: that means it’s assured to work properly when wanted. Second, the lifetime prices of its set up, upkeep and use are round 25% decrease than these of its diesel counterpart.

Third, it’s in a position to minimize reliance on the grid throughout peak electrical energy utilization hours. Importantly, this reduces stress on the grid and makes energy outages much less frequent. And fourth, this environmentally pleasant answer cuts dangerous greenhouse gasoline emissions from burning diesel.

Sadly, making solar-based backup methods in sub-Saharan Africa the norm faces a significant impediment. Their preliminary price is six instances larger than that of an equal diesel-based system: round £7,200 in contrast with £1,200.

The quantity of this preliminary funding is more likely to put many households off, particularly these with decrease incomes. Right here’s the place governments and utility corporations must step in to supply loans or grants, serving to everybody to entry this know-how.

Regardless of the disappointing consequence for a lot of African nations of the latest UN local weather change convention COP26, developed nations have promised to a minimum of double their local weather adaptation finance to growing nations by 2025. Hopefully, a few of that cash will probably be invested in solar-based backup methods, silencing the extraordinary, acquainted hum of diesel turbines in sub-Saharan Africa.


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