LUCY ELECTRIC INTERVIEW: “We are seeing increasing investment in renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic, hydropower, wind or geothermal across East Africa”

1.    Can we start with a breakdown of the kind of work that Lucy Electric does in the power and utilities sector across the continent?
Lucy Electric is a company with a great heritage and strong history in East Africa. We are experts in secondary distribution solutions, with more than 100 years’ experience in the electrical industry.

Our engineers work at the forefront of design and implementation for automation projects, from concept to deployment, and we use our engineering excellence to design and manufacture bespoke, best-in-class switchgear products.

We provide a complete range of switching and protection solutions for both underground and overhead line networks. Our range of medium voltage switchgear includes SF6 gas and oil insulated ring main units (transformer or ground mounted); pole or structure mounted air break disconnectors; and air or gas load break switches.

Our business in the region is almost exclusively long term supply contracts, and we expect to see this continuing in the foreseeable future. We work closely with our customers to provide tailored solutions which continue to add value, and make it easier for them to manage their distribution network reliably, economically and sustainably.

2.    Any specific projects that you are particularly excited about that you can share? What were the highlights from the last year?
An exciting development for us in 2017 is the launch of our first 36kV ring main unit (RMU). The Aegis36 is designed to meet the growing demand for a quality switchgear solution for 36kV networks and support the increasing number of renewable power connections, particularly important across the African continent. The new Aegis36 means that customers in Africa and around the world are able to select Lucy Electric ring main products across the full secondary distribution voltage range.

On the projects front we are currently working with UMEME to automate the overhead network in Kampala and the surrounding area. The project focuses on optimisation of the network to improve quality of supply and will enable UMEME to better manage generation shortfalls, improve fault resolution and allow reconfiguration of the network to ensure essential services are maintained during any power outages. Now in its final stages, the project has the potential to be extended on both the overhead and underground network. We will be sharing more about this project and the benefits it has delivered to the Kampala region at Future Energy Uganda.

Network automation projects are the key focus for utilities in East Africa. We are engaged in a project for Kenya Power to automate the network in the Mombasa region, across 1,661 square kilometres, reducing average fault response time from 1 -2 hours to just 30 seconds. For ECG in Ghana, Lucy Electric automated almost 50,000 kms of distribution lines, increasing network resilience, improving supply quality and delivering almost instant fault identification.
 
3.    What are the main challenges and opportunities for the energy sector in Africa and the East African region specifically?
Without a doubt the biggest challenges facing the energy sector across Africa are reliable access to electricity and the shortfall in energy generation. Demand for electricity for both business and domestic use is rising as a result of population growth, urbanisation and sustained economic development.

There is a growing recognition among many organisations that renewable sources can play a major part in addressing the shortfall at grass roots level. Hydropower and smaller, local PV and other low carbon schemes allow communities rapid access to electricity (installation can take less than a year in contrast with major infrastructure development which may take up to eight years) and we anticipate major growth in these installations across rural Africa in the future.

Across the East Africa region there is great potential for high volumes of photovoltaic, hydropower, wind or geothermal energy generation, depending upon the location. Amongst investors there is an increasing appetite for such projects, which present a smaller risk, with a much quicker and quantifiable payback. As a result we are seeing increasing investment in renewable energy sources.

This is a very exciting time for the electricity sector across East Africa and at Lucy Electric we hope to play a key part in helping to make this a reality. Lucy Electric’s switchgear range comes into effect when low carbon technologies head towards 1MW and upwards or where there is a need for local microgrid interconnections or connections to the main grid – and we expect to see rising demand for these products in the future.

4.    Uganda is regarded as one of THE countries currently that are good power project investment destinations - do you agree?
A recent study by the World Bank lists Uganda as one of only two countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with a financially viable electricity sector. The industry has shown continued good operational performance and has made substantial progress in reducing transmission and distribution losses.

Alongside this, progressive policies to encourage both energy infrastructure development and renewable power generation projects, supported by the Global Energy Transfer Feed-in Tariff’s Uganda programme, has made Uganda very attractive to outside investment in electricity infrastructure projects.

As a result, Uganda has seen an explosion of infrastructure and renewable generation development, and we expect to see this continue.

5.    What is your vision for this sector?
The East African region presents a stable political and economic environment which is very attractive to investors. Forward-looking governments in the region are proactively developing infrastructure for the future and we anticipate continued investment in the short and medium term.

This presents great opportunities for utilities to future-proof networks. By moving away from traditional design models towards more active network management, utilities can take into account the challenges presented by the growth of distributed energy resources. Utilities in the region have the opportunity to leapfrog over the challenges faced by mature networks and we are seeing a growing number of automation projects and an increased focus on monitoring, data gathering and data management.

6.    Lucy Electric is a platinum sponsor for the inaugural Future Energy Uganda this year – how excited are you about this new event in Uganda?
We have participated in EAPIC for many years and are very excited to be a part of this new event. The electricity industry in this region is one of the fastest developing on the continent and this event presents the perfect opportunity to showcase our products, services and leading expertise to one of our key growth markets.

7.    What will be your message at the event this year?
We are looking forward to demonstrating our expertise in secondary distribution networks with a particular focus on our automation product range which has been designed to deliver enhanced network intelligence for our customers, the highest levels of operational efficiency and facilitate easy flexible upgrades to meet our customers’ changing needs.

We will be sharing our experiences of automating the overhead network in Kampala and the surrounding area and the benefits achieved as a result of this project. Our experienced engineers will be on hand to provide information about our retrofit solutions, latest generation, automation-ready ring main units, remote terminal units, SCADA, distribution management and LV monitoring systems, for both underground and overhead networks.