SteamaCo’s customer, Rensource, is a distributed energy company on a mission to electrify Nigeria. This case study shows the negative effects of “bad-grid” - urban grid-connected areas with regular power outages - and how Rensource, SteamaCo and others are working to upgrade Nigeria’s energy infrastructure.
Nigeria’s grid experiences three chronic issues - grid stability, theft and estimated billing - and these problems are sadly most difficult to address in bad-grid areas.
To get power during power outages, many consumers are taking matters into their own hands, partially “defecting” from the grid and relying on costly and hazardous alternatives such as fossil fuel generators. These are having an adverse impact on the economy, with consumers spending $14bn per annum on generators. Worse still, generators contribute greatly to air pollution, which is classed as the leading cause of death in Nigeria, amounting to some 65,000 deaths annually. The problem is so bad that the Nigerian government is banning generators and inviting renewable energy providers to help improve the energy system.
All utilities - public and private - often operate in places with poor connectivity, making it difficult to capture the data necessary for customer billing and reporting. Until now, estimated billing has been the only way to get around this problem, causing occasional billing inaccuracy and frequent consumer frustration. Distribution companies are working to provide a sustainable solution to estimated billing. Meanwhile, they are experiencing a resulting loss in consumer trust. Here, the Nigerian House of Representatives is going so far as to propose a regulatory change to criminalise estimated billing.
A pressing problem for Nigerian electricity distributors is energy theft. Reports of electricity equipment damage and tampering run throughout Nigeria, causing a staggering 50% loss in revenue. The difficulty in pinpointing where energy theft occurs is one of the main challenges.
So far there have been no solutions capable of measuring energy theft, handling poor connectivity and improving uptime of Nigeria’s grid, until now.
These pressing needs create promising opportunities for private energy suppliers. Rensource Energy is one such company. They are a solar “power as a service” company that provides a clean alternative to Nigeria’s grid quality problems. With plummeting global solar costs, Rensource is able to produce electricity more cheaply and cleanly than generators and more reliably than the grid.
The challenge for Rensource is to provide a wholesale alternative - the solution has to scale - so automation is a key consideration. This means using smart technology that provides grid stability and customer management, even in bad-grid areas. Rensource's quest for a solution led them to trial a competing product in 2017 that proved unable to operate in this environment. This led the power supplier to SteamaCo. The result? SteamaCo meters successfully passed field testing, demonstrating dependable technology even in the most rugged locations.
With SteamaCo’s technology, Rensource is now a micro utility and rapidly becoming a model for the future of Nigeria’s power system. They now have a set of utility automation capabilities that enables them to maintain grid performance and operate their power systems remotely. The platform’s metering and billing logic allow customers to pay for their exact usage with ease. And SteamaCo’s messaging engine enables the utility to communicate with customers and technicians from anywhere.
Rensource's first site, Sabon Gari market, is currently bustling with activity as their technicians continue to install clean, reliable power for the first time. Throughout 2018, an exciting turn around is taking place, from street markets with little energy infrastructure to a functional, modern space for tens of thousands of shops and millions of consumers to thrive.