In this exclusive interview with Johan Helberg, the Siemens country manager for Kenya, he talks about the energy sector's transition towards a more digitalised approach.
“We’re moving away from a system of centrally generated electricity to an energy network with many different players, all of which have to be controlled. Without digitalisation, there’s no chance it can function.”
Welcome back to Future Energy East Africa! How important is this region for Siemens?
The East African region within Africa that Siemens serves is important to us. We focus on nine countries with Siemens offices in five of these East African countries with our East African hub headquartered in Ethiopia.
Which projects in the region are you most excited about at the moment? How is this changing the way utilities operate?
We are excited about many projects that are planned and that are in execution. In the large projects arena, we look forward to supporting the region to establish the interconnections and trading platforms and on the medium and smaller side we are geared and are participating in various Distributed Energy Solutions.
What in your opinion are the main challenges utilities in the region face?
Right now there is a multitude of challenges. Managing and maintaining grid systems that now rapidly integrate variable generation sources and variable usage is a major challenge. Secondly the lack of, harmonised standards and application thereof poses a great challenge in achieving design life, inter-integrate-ability and operability .
How will renewable energy change the way East Africans use power in the next five years?
It will give access to energy and the benefits thereof long before traditional network expansion plans are approved.
What is your vision for the East African region’s energy future?
To ensure that each African person and business has access to clean and reliable power. The vision towards achieving this is to bring modern solutions that are robust and agile allowing energy networks to effectively perform and be able to grow and expand effortlessly into the future. In conjunction the vision will include a radical change in financing solutions making finance a lot more accessible to power producers and distributors, while lending more security to the funders.
In May, Siemens won the new category at the African Utility Week Industry Awards for Digital Utility of the Year – tell us more about this award-winning project?
What an honour for Siemens to be recognised as a digital and technology leader in Africa. What is important to us is to be able to clearly show the benefits of deploying technology and digitalisation in a multi-energy source environment (PV Solar, Battery Storage, Diesel Generation and Utility supply), in effectively balancing energy usage translating into an attractive ROI and ongoing significantly reduced energy bill. In this Siemens digitalised solution, we created significant optimised value in reducing carbon footprint, reducing energy costs and bringing stability to the deployed microgrid, serving its users in a predictable and sustainable manner.
What will be your message at this year’s Future Energy East Africa?
We need to see what is happening in the grid! We’re moving away from a system of centrally generated electricity to an energy network with many different players, all of which have to be controlled. The result is a complex web of energy, information and financial flows.
Without digitalisation, there’s no chance it can function. Digitalisation makes the technical systems intelligent, enabling data to be captured, linked to the IoT with cloud-based operating systems like MindSphere, and processed to optimize operations and ensure the stability of the entire energy system.
Anything you would like to add?
I would like to share some words on a digital substation, one of many topics we will discuss in more detail within the Siemens IoT and Digitalisation portfolio during the event and afterwards.
For Siemens, a modern digital substation is a system that combines six aspects:
First, there are the primary and secondary technologies: On the one hand (primary), the equipment and devices that perform the actual functions – transmitting, distributing and switching electricity – such as switchgear, switches, transformers, etc. – and on the other hand (secondary), the protection devices and station automation system that monitors the primary functions.
The devices inside the substation communicate digitally via a standard protocol or report their data to the station automation system. Cyber security is always extremely important wherever digital technology is used, and systems are more vulnerable to attacks, unauthorised access, etc. A variety of measures are employed to ensure cybersecurity.
Thanks to digitalisation, all assets in a system can be monitored for their maintenance and service needs. With this asset management system, the operator always knows the answer to the question: “Is my system technically and economically in order?”
In addition, the data can help ensure reliable grid operation since it also provides information about the quality of the power. The digitalisation of a substation begins with the station’s initial technical planning, which is done digitally. This technical database is later available at various places in the grid and throughout the substation’s lifecycle: experts call this integrated engineering.
Siemens is a longstanding partner of Future Energy East Africa and this year’s platinum sponsor at the 20th edition in Nairobi from 12-13 September.