Will Senegal be a storage pioneer?

BY RICHARD HEAP:

Most energy storage development is focused on the world’s richest countries. This is understandable, given that most of us in the west expect uninterrupted access to our electricals. Storage can help to manage these huge demands.

But what impact will storage have on grids in developing nations with lower levels of access to electricity? It’s a question we’re asking ourselves after the announcement of a potential battery project in Senegal this week.

On Tuesday, African developer Lekela Power won a grant from the US Trade & Development Agency for a feasibility study into developing the first grid-scale battery in Senegal. Lekela is a joint venture between Mainstream Renewable Power and emerging markets investor Actis, which commissioned the first 16 turbines of the 46-turbine 158.7MW Taiba N’Diaye wind farm in February. It is the first wind farm in Senegal and it is due to complete this year.

Lekela is now set to carry out a study with grid operator Senelec into whether it can add battery storage too, to help manage intermittent production.

This ten-month research project will look at the technical, economic, legal and environmental challenges for pairing a wind farm with battery storage on the Senegalese grid. This could open the way for the east African nation to be a storage leader across the continent.

Chris Antonopoulos, chief executive of Lekela, believes it will do more than that. He said adding a battery to Taiba N’Diaye could “catapult Senegal to the forefront of renewable energy usage in modern day grids”.

He added it is “the logical next step to utilise wind and solar and bring clean, cheap power to Senegal’s citizens”.

There’s a lot to unpick here, and most of all the bold claim that a utility-scale battery in Senegal could put the country at the forefront of a global revolution in smart grids. This will likely have many in the industry scoffing. Senegal isn’t 100% electrified, and produces a tiny amount of electricity from renewables.

Only 65% of its population has access to electricity, which falls to 42% in rural areas, and this is dominated by oil, biofuels and coal. How is it a leader?

Well, the interesting aspect here is what lower electricity use tells us about how wind and solar projects can be paired with the grid.

Taiba N’Diaye is set to supply power to 2million people on completion, or 12.6% of Senegal’s population. A small battery could have a disproportionately large impact on the grid, and teach other countries about the use of storage.

We also see three ways this could help green growth in Africa.

First, the study will show how the population of Senegal could gain more value from a large wind farm that has already been installed.

Adding a battery to Taiba N’Diaye should help to ensure fewer electrons are wasted and support the government to achieve its goal of 100% electricity access by 2030. It will also highlight potential obstacles for storage in Africa.

Second, the project could help unlock further wind and solar development in Senegal at a crucial juncture for its energy policy. Le Plan Senegal Emergent is the country’s long-term economic development plan, which was adopted in 2012 and sets out the goal of 100% electrification by 2030.

However, the International Energy Agency has shown this plan depends on the huge growth of natural gas from the early 2020s, which would dwarf wind and solar. In our view, the Lekela study will show that batteries can play a key role in helping more wind and solar onto the grid. This can encourage the leaders in Senegal to take a cleaner path.

And third, storage success in Senegal could lead to more investment in wind and solar in other African countries.

Renewables and storage are both often said to be key to unlocking electricity access for the 600million people in Africa who live without it, but we see little progress in sub-Saharan Africa away from a small handful of leaders – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal. This study might help with building that momentum.

There are caveats. It’s only one possible battery at only one wind farm.

But it could be a big step for African electrification.

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