ENGINEER Research Project – Development, analysis and documentation of a mini-grid pilot project in Eastern Cape, South Africa
A lack of electrification limits economic development. The ENGINEER project has built a self-contained power grid in a South African village with the broader aim of providing greater economic opportunities and improved living conditions to off-grid regions. Residents are provided with solar power by a so-called hybrid mini-grid, and the concept can be transferred to other regions.
January 2017 until December 2018
The Bund-Länder-Programm of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), a funding line that promotes cooperation between the federal and state governments; supported by the Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Climate Protection of Lower Saxony
Institute of Networked Energy Systems
Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Umwelt, Energie und Klimaschutz
Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
National Department of Energy
Raymond Mhlaba Economic Development Agency
Fort Hare University
Fort Cox College
CSIR (Steve Szewczuk)
Project Manager at the Institute of Networked Energy Systems:
Upper Blinkwater lies well off the beaten track in a mountainous region of the South African Eastern Cape province. There are no plans to connect the village to the public grid in the foreseeable future. The ENGINEER pilot project has shown that this type of community can nevertheless be provided with a sustainable source of electricity. This project came about thanks to the partnership between Eastern Cape and the German state of Lower Saxony. It seeks to demonstrate that even in the absence of a comprehensive power grid, communities can be provided with electricity by relying predominantly on renewable energies. Thanks to the Bund-Länder-Programm, a local grid can provide power to up to 67 homes, a school and a church. With support from Lower Saxony and GIZ, the German development agency, the Institute of Networked Energy Systems contributes to this project by conducting research on the technical and sociocultural conditions related to the electrification of off-grid regions.
A photovoltaics system with a 75 kW nominal capacity is the planned source of electricity supply for this particular village. Power is in particularly high demand during evening hours, so peak hours of production and consumption do not overlap. This is overcome by means of a lead acid battery with a capacity of 370 kilowatt-hours. A supporting diesel generator will be installed to prevent power outages and handle periods of peak demand.
Scientists were first tasked with calculating the expected power consumption so that the local grid could be built to handle the demand. To this end, the use of energy sources such as candles, paraffin, gas and batteries was analysed. Shifts in consumption as a result of electrification were carefully documented to aid in the planning of future efforts to provide electricity to other off-grid regions.
These so-called mini-grids aim to create better opportunities for development in off-grid regions and slow migration away from rural areas. The Upper Blinkwater grid was undertaken as a pilot project – more than 90 percent of the village’s residents are poor. With a reliable source of electricity, the village’s residents can now extend local value added chains and interact economically with neighbouring communities on a much sounder footing.