In Nigeria, Small-Scale Solar Plants Are Letting The Sunshine In


Innovative technology links three solar power projects that GE is undertaking in Nigeria for the Tolaram Group.

Until recently, small-scale rooftop solar projects have been under-utilised in the country, with diesel generators a far more common source of primary energy supply to these locations. Now, advances in solar technology are making this clean energy more affordable.

The first Africa installation of  GE’s solar hybrid technology will go ahead later this year at the Northern Noodles factory in Kaduna, northern Nigeria. The state of the art manufacturing facility is run by Dufil Prima Foods, a Tolaram subsidiary.

Since it was built in 2012, the automated noodle factory has been a completely off-grid operation, powered by its own diesel generators and drawing no electricity from the Nigerian grid. GE Solar is installing a photovoltaic (solar PV) renewable energy plant, which will integrate with the existing diesel generating system for a 24/7 uninterrupted  power supply.

Adding this 382.8 kW kilowatt solar hybrid system will reduce the rate of diesel consumption at the plant site thereby drastically reducing the customer’s opex, while also reducing  emissions from the diesel operation. GE expects the plant to achieve an  annual 18% reduction in both costs and emissions.

Noodles are becoming an increasingly popular food in Nigeria, and the factory is the largest noodle producer in Africa.
“This installation is an example of what’s possible for solar technology on a smaller commercial scale,” explained Jeff Wyatt, general manager of GE’s solar and energy storage business when the solar hybrid system was contracted.

“In many regions where there is no grid, or power from the utility grid is unreliable or expensive, manufacturers need a reliable, integrated solution they can count on. The economics of PV hybrid are attractive,” he said. As a result, companies are able to take advantage of a sustainable long-term energy solution.

“Tolaram strives to be an early adopter of advanced technology, and solar energy looks extremely promising. Our goal is to reduce our carbon footprint and create sustainable industrial growth,” Sajen Aswani, CEO of Tolaram Group, explained on the group’s LinkedIn page.

Two more Tolaram sites, in Lagos, received solar PV systems that can switch automatically between three power  sources – solar, diesel generator and grid electricity – to achieve maximum  fuel and cost savings. These pilot sites, sponsored by GE Ventures Licensing, are designed to test new business and technology models focused on small commercial solar customers in Africa.
The electronic controller integrates an electric battery system that stores solar power during the day for use at night, extending the use of solar power beyond daylight hours and bringing about further savings.

The two installations are at the Tolaram Group headquarters, incorporating a retail shop, in Lagos and at a second retail shop in Rotimi. Adding a renewable energy power supply, with battery power throughout the night, has been a huge boost as the area has grid electricity for 12 hours a day or less.

The Lagos installation is capable of delivering 10kVA of continuous power, with a short term peak capability of a high as 30kVA. The smaller installation at Rotimi can deliver 2kVA of power, with a peak capability of 5kVA.

“These pilot plants have only been in operation since November 2015, and once we have completed our assessments we will consider expanding the offering,” said Brian Selby of GE Ventures Licensing.

“It’s an exciting and innovative  design, making energy available around the clock from the least-cost energy source. While the system intelligently uses electricity as and when available from the grid or a fuel generator, it always prioritises the use or solar electricity, be it directly from the sun or as stored in the battery,” he  said.

A further advantage is that the system does not require any technical training to operate. In addition, GE  can offer remote monitoring for data collection and analysis across the  installations.

GE recently renewed its “company-to-country” agreement with Nigeria for another five years. This is part of a larger GE plan to invest $2 billion in Africa by 2018. That will help Nigeria as it pushes to install 40 gigawatts (40 000MW) of additional power generating capacity by 2020.

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