FORTIS UNUM (stronger as one)

Clustering mini grid networks to widen energy access & enhance utility network resilience

Globally there are around 800 million people without access to electricity with around 600 million living in Sub Saharan Africa. The Energy for Development (e4D) programme was created in 2010 to address this challenge for initiating seminal studies in electricity access for hard-to-reach poor areas in Sub Shahan Africa and beyond (click here for the e4D leaflet). At its core is fundamental research coupled with implementation of exemplar rural electrification projects as learning entities to support energy (electricity) access. As 80% of the SSA population lives in sparsely populated rural areas, extending the grid is prohibitively expensive and these areas are likely to be served mainly through mini grids.

Mini grids consist of electrical power generation, transmission and distribution and have an important role to play in delivering electricity access to off-grid rural communities. FORTIS UNUM research will address in-situ mini grid system and networks connectivity and simulations in various modes:

  • Isolated mini grid networks.
  • Mini grid networks connected to the national grid.
  • Multiple mini grid networks connected together and working jointly (clustered) and connected to the national grid.

Clustering mini grids will form wider networks with greater stability and lower Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE), while linking such clusters to the national grid could provide support the near end of line utility network. This research is underpinned by the e4D’s five existing mini grids in Kenya and Uganda, and will impact the planned 400 mini grids in these countries.

Kitonyoni

Makyenui County, Kenya

Kanyegaramire

Kyenjojo District, Uganda

Shompole

Kajiado County, Kenya

Kyamugarura

Kyenjojo District, Uganda

Oloika

Kajiado County, Kenya

The Fortis Unum research, development and deployment activities are built around the following 6 key areas:

Field survey and data collection

Several face-to-face customer surveys in different Kenya and Uganda e4D mini grid sites between 2019 and 2022 were conducted. Surveys were developed to understand different aspects of socio-economic parameters related to electricity demand among residential and business customers. During COVID-19 travel restrictions some of these surveys were surrogated through the local partners. Alongside paper-based surveys the digital survey tool, Fulcrum, was introduced to allow geo-spatial siting of survey responses.

Simulation and modelling

A range of simulation and modelling of (i) isolated mini grid networks, (ii) existing mini grid networks connected to the national grid, and (iii) interconnected multiple mini grids were conducted using various software, including, PowerFactory – DIgSILENT, ETAP and HOMER Pro. Computer modelling and simulation enabled the research team to study powerflow, harmonics, power quality, islanding behaviour and dispatch strategy.

Remote monitoring and data logging

Monitoring and data logging have been a vital part of the Fortis Unum project, enabling a successful delivery of research, development and deployment. Electricity consumption monitoring of residential and business customers (i.e. welding shops and posho mills) have been conducted through repurposing OpenEnergyMonitor kits. While monitoring and data gathering from mini grid and utility networks several units of Power Quality analysers and GridKey devices were deployed. The Fortis Unum data observatory hosts a live data feed of a selection of installed monitoring kits at the Kitonyoni mini grid site.

Deployment

The Fortis Unum project has successfully delivered Kenya’s first grid connected solar photovoltaic mini grid in Kitonyoni Kenya. The Kitonyoni mini grid which was installed as part of the Energy For Development Programme in 2012, is now connected to the Kenya Power & Lighting Company Ltd. (KPLC) grid. The Fortis Unum innovation in Mini Grid and Utility Grid interconnection enabled this PV mini grid to work independently and supply electricity to the connected customers in the events of utility grid blackouts. All the mini grid customers are now connected to the KPLC grid and enjoy seamless electricity supply with any excess power generated by the mini grid’s PV system at any time of the day, is exported to KPLC grid. A live feed of data from the Kitonyoni grid-connected mini grid can be found here.

The experience, learnings and knowledge transfer from the Kitonyoni grid connected mini grid includes areas of (i) technical, (ii) socio-economic and (iii) policy related aspects which will inform decision making on challenges and opportunities to help Kenya’s electricity utility and off-grid electrification bodies with the future integration of  decentralised mini grids into the national grid. The Kenya experience can also be applied in other countries in the region.

Capacity building

Capacity building has been a key focus of the Fortis Unum research project. This included, onsite learning for project partners and postgraduate engineering students from Kenya and other countries. Extended training was arranged at the Energy and Climate Change Division of the University of Southampton, UK for the Kenya and Uganda researchers of the project. Also, students and researchers from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology (JKUAT) and Institute of Energy Studies & Research (IESR) were trained on electricity access and demand assessment surveys through digital tools by the UoS research team.

Dissemination

Research and development outcomes of ‘Fortis Unum’ have been presented in several international conferences by the project team. Project collaborators from Kenya, Uganda and the UK delivered 6 papers at the 6th Africa Mini Grids Summit 2021 and a further 7 papers at the Showcasing Engineering for Development one-day conference in March 2022.

6th Africa Mini Grids Summit

Fortis Unum partners presented the following 6 papers at the 6th Afirca Mini Grids Summit. Click on the titles to read the full abstracts. 

Showcasing Engineering for Development Conference

Fortis Unum partners presented the following 8 papers at the Showcasing Engingeering for Development one-day Conference.

  • Introducing Fortis Unum: Mini Grids and Electrical Networks, AbuBakr Bahaj, University of Southampton, UK.
  • Design and Deployment Issues – Distribution Network In Kenya, Daniel Nyandera, Kenya Power, Institute of Energy Studies and Research, Kenya.
  • Clustering mini grid networks, Al-Mas Sendegeya and Prossy MutesiKyambogo University, Uganda
  • Energy Equity: Why electricity access is important? AbuBakr Bahaj, University of Southampton, UK.
  • Understanding Mini Grid Customers, Keren Kaberere and Samson NjorogeJomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya.
  • Demand growth and reliability in mini-grids,Luke Blunden, University of Southampton, UK.
  • Electrical Mini grids for Development: Lessons from the Field, AbuBakr Bahaj and Patrick James, University of Southampton. UK.
  • Adapting Mini Grid Power plant to Connect to the National Grid, AbuBakr Bahaj, University of Southampton, 

 Fortis Unum updates

ECCD exhibit at The Big Sustainability Expo (Southampton) 2022 2022

The Energy and Climate Change Division exhibited at The Big Sustainability Expo (Southampton) 2022 held at St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton on Thursday 22nd September.

ECCD present at the International Conference on Sustainable Energy Technologies (SET 2022) 2022

ECCD presented two papers at the International Conference on Sustainable Energy Technologies (SET 2022), taking place in Istanbul, Turkey on 16-18 August 2022.

Showcasing Engineering for Development 2022

ECCD, in partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering, hosted the inaugural Showcasing Engineering for Development one-day conference, taking place at the Royal Academy of Engineering, London, UK on March 18 from 09:30-16:00.

Training for local Engineers: Grid Connected Mini Grid, Kitonyoni 2021

Energy for Development (e4D) team conducted a hands-on training for the young engineers of Kenya. Attendees learned how a small solar mini grid can support the near end of the utility grid while safely connected to the grid. The engineers also, learned the technological know how for grid interconnection, control strategies, grid export-import.

Why does energy demand grow at different rates in similar mini-grids? 2021

Dr Luke Blunden presented “Why does energy demand grow at different rates in similar mini-grids?” in the ‘Energy Poverty’ special session at the Evolving Cities Conference 2021, hosted in Southampton, UK from 13-15 September 2021. The research presentation focused on key aspects of electricity demand growth in off-grid mini grids. Lessons from the six operational Energy ...

e4D energy needs assessment: off-grid Sudan 2021

Energy for Development (e4D) PhD researcher Aya Mohamed carried out extensive surveys in different off-grid locations in Sudan. Fulcrum digital survey tool was used to conduct all these surveys in July 2021. This work was supported by Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources (HCENR), National Energy Research Center (NERC) and Ministry of Energy and ...

ECCD and Fortis Unum project collaborators present 7 papers at the 6th Africa Mini Grids Summit 2021 2021

The Energy and Climate Change Division and Fortis Unum project collaborators presented 7 papers at the 2021 6th Africa Mini Grids Summit 2021 held virtually from 25-26 February.

Technology prospects in delivering electricity access 2021

This article provides a brief outline on the issue of delivering electricity access and provides some options on how this gap can be addressed through research and development embedded in evidence and exemplar projects.

FORTIS UNUM (Stronger As One): Clustering Mini-Grid Networks to Widen Energy Access and Enhance Utility Network Resilience 2021

FORTIS UNUM research will address in-situ mini grid system and networks connectivity and simulations in (i) isolated mini grid networks, (ii) mini grid networks connected to the national grid and (iii) multiple mini grid networks connected together and working jointly (clustered) and connected to the national grid.

6th Africa Mini Grids Summit 2021 2021

The 6th Africa Mini Grids Summit in Nairobi, Kenya is scheduled for the 25-26th February 2021 to discuss advancing successful mini grid and solar home systems in Africa.

ECCD contribute to UN75 Sustainable Engineering in Action book 2020

Professor AbuBakr Bahaj and Professor Patrick James from the Energy and Climate Change Division at the University of Southampton have contributed an article Power to the People: The mini-grid solution to rural electrification for the UN75: Sustainable Engineering in Action book, which marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.

ECCD presents at the Beyond 2020, World Sustainable Built Environment Online Conference 2020

The Energy and Climate Change Division presented 3 papers at the Beyond 2020 World Sustainable Conference held between 2-4 November.

5th Africa mini-grid conference 2019, Ghana 2019

Professor AbuBakr Bahaj, head of  Energy and Climate Change Division at the University of Southampton chaired the 5th Africa Mini Grid Conference held in Ghana, June 2019.

Energy for Development Event 2019

Deployed e4D mini grids supply electricity 24/7 to businesses, health centres, schools, places of worship & households. All project are cooperatives, managed by elected members of the local communities. Performances remotely monitored by the e4D team in UK. For more information please download the latest e4D leaflet, or visit our project websites on: Fortis Unum project: https://www.energy.soton.ac.uk/fortis-unum2018/ Energy ...

DC mini grids 2017

This research project, which considered Sub-Saharan Africa proposes a DCMG platform to serve rural and remote areas beyond the utility grid. Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from such DC mini-grids have been studied and compared with equivalent AC mini-grids and diesel grids using HOMER micro-grid simulation.

Capacity Building in Energy Access and Energy Efficiency 2017

Newton Fund Institutional Links Grant between ECCD at the University of Southampton, and the Centre for Research in Energy Systems and Technologies (CREST) of the University of San Carlos aims to build capacity in energy efficiency and energy access.

Innovations in Solar Home Systems 2017

This project investigated a new upgradeable SHS for rural electrification with the key objectives of designing and developing an affordable and modular pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar home system (SHS) product line for off-grid households in Africa.

Capacity in Research and Development Embedded in Case Studies Related to Energy in the Built Environment and for Rural Electrification 2017

This Newton Fund Institutional Links Grant between the Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) of the University of Southampton, and the Center for Research in Energy Systems and Technologies (CREST) of the University of San Carlos covers two areas: energy efficiency in buildings, and energy access (rural electrification). This report covers the preparatory work being done ...

University of Southampton projects on Africa rural electrification represented at 3rd International Off-grid Renewable Energy Conference 2016

The University of Southampton’s Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) showcased their work in Energy for Development (e4D) at 3rd International Off-grid Renewable Energy Conference (IOREC) which took place in Nairobi, Kenya, on the 30th September and 1st October. The exhibition included displays, videos and information on the 6 mini-grid projects installed by SERG in Africa. IOREC ...

University of Southampton's Mini Grid Projects in Africa form a Central Part at 2nd African Mini Grid Summit 2015

The 2nd African Mini Grid Summit was launched today in Nairobi Kenya, with the aim of sharing experiences in mini grids especially those related to low carbon renewable energy schemes in Africa. The Summit held over the period 18 – 20 November 2015, will be attended by representatives from various African governments, academia, the private sector ...

Energy for Development holds 'Development and Mini-Grids in Rural Africa' conference in Nairobi, Kenya 2015

‘Development and Mini-Grids in Rural Africa’ was the first Energy for Development’s (e4D) dissemination conference successfully held 11 – 12 May 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was well attended with over 110 registrants including academics, project developers, governmental officials, private sector contractors, students, project financiers as well as other stakeholders operating in the field ...

e4D – 'Development and Mini-Grids in Rural Africa' – Conference Report 2015

‘Development and Mini-Grid in Rural Africa’ was the Energy for Development’s (e4D) first dissemination conference successfully held 11 – 12 May 2015, in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference was well attended with over 130 registrants including academics, project developers, governmental officials, private sector contractors, students, project financiers as well as other stakeholders operating in the field of ...

Development & Minigrids Rural Africa Conference 2015

11th and 12th May 2015 As part of the Energy for Development programme, a two-day conference on “Development and Minigrids” – Rural Africa will be held in Nairobi on 11th and 12th May 2015. The purpose of the conference is to bring together active partners in the field and to disseminate the e4D work on Energy for ...

Prof Bahaj gives Lecture on Energy for Development at the Islamic Development Bank, Jeddah Saudi Arabia 2013

On Wednesday 17th July 2013, Professor AbuBakr Bahaj, head of the Sustainable Energy Research Group, attended an joint event in Saudi Arabia on; Community of Practice on Poverty Reduction Community of Practice on Infrastructure ISDF Knowledge Initiative for Poverty Reduction Professor Bahaj gave a lecture at the event on ‘A New Approach to Energy for Development‘, speaking about the ...

Two New Villages set for Electrification 2013

The villages of Bambouti in Cameroon and Oloika in Kenya’s rift valley are set for electrification through PV array’s by the E4D team and partners. Baseline data has been collected and the villages will undergo installation in the coming months. Oloika, Kenya On a recent trip to Kenya, the E4D team, along with members of Kenya’s Rural ...

Lecture 30th May 2013: A New Approach to Energy for Development 2013

Thursday 30 May 2013 Room 1027/Building 67 Highfield Campus Doors open 17.30 Lecture begins 18.00 – no admittance after 18.00 Refreshments will be served in the foyer from 17.30 onwards Speaker: Prof. AbuBakr Bahaj, BSc, PhD, FICE, FRSA Head of Energy & Climate Change Division Faculty of Engineering and the Environment University of Southampton To date it is estimated ...

Energy for Development Network 2013

The Energy for Development Network aims to combine these three key components to develop appropriate, replicable models for energy systems that recognize the socio-economic and financial, as well as technical aspects of supplying energy.

Sustainable Thermal Energy Service Partnerships 2013

This research will study applicable energy conversion and end-use application technologies, analyse institutional arrangements, develop business and enterprise models which needs to be implemented to promote thermal energy services in rural areas developing countries The research will analyse the respective role of government and private partners to form Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) models for energy services like ...

Energy for Development project installs 13.5 KW solar plant in Kenya 2012

The Energy for Development project has successfully completed the installation of the 13.5 KW solar plant in the rural Kenyan village Kitonyoni. The project addresses the electricity needs of rural communities in East Africa and addresses the fundamental scientific, engineering, social and policy research issues in rural power generation and distribution, transferring knowledge between participating countries ...