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Here’s what we learned: We created the first AI powered solar electricity backup system to power houses in sub-Saharan Africa.
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Here’s what we learned: We created the first AI powered solar electricity backup system to power houses in sub-Saharan Africa.

A world map of solar power potential


When the collapse of Zimbabwe’s electricity grid on December 14 2021 plunged most of the country into a blackout, Zimbabweans feared that they would have to spend Christmas in the dark. Two days later, to their relief, the utility company restored a major electricity station. Announcement that there would be “minimal scheduled power cuts during the festive season”.

In sub-Saharan African states, outages are quite common due to weak or stressed power grids. Those who have the money to invest in it tend to do so. Backup systemsTo ensure electricity access.

Despite their high operating and environmental costs, diesel generatorsThese have been the most popular choices. Unfortunately, the alternative – using renewable energy sources as a backup – is often seen as unreliable, since wind and sunlight are inherently intermittent.

Yet, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the most populated regions. solar energyDue to its low cloud cover and high sunshine, the area has great potential for generation. Intensity. This means that reliable, clean solar energy is needed to power the grid.

Engineers from Ulster University, we’ve developed an intelligent solar backup systempowered by artificial intelligence (AI) to support sub-Saharan Africa’s utility grids.

What we made

Our system is connected to both the grid and to a storage battery that can store electricity to power the household when needed. Since it’s designed for a region where individual electric water heaters are commonly used – in fact, they account for As high as 40% of total household electricity consumption – the system also includes a solar hot water device, which uses solar radiation to directly pre-heat water without needing electricity.

A world map of solar power potential

This map shows sub-Saharan Africa’s high solar power potential.
The World Bank, Global Solar Atlas 2.0, CC BY -NC-SA

An autonomous AI-based backup system ensures that electricity is always available. Control systemCharges battery usage

The AI analyzes the expected amount of solar energy produced and the electricity required by the household. It also looks at the frequency and duration of blackouts. This allows the AI to ensure that enough backup electricity is always available by storing more during periods with high solar intensity. The surplus electricity can be used for heating water or sold back to the grid when the battery is full.

This study was based on data from both Zimbabwe and Botswana households. SimulationsOur intelligent solar backup system was compared to a standard diesel generator, proving its superiority.

A graph comparing solar and diesel electricity demand
Our research has shown that a solar backup system significantly reduces electricity demand.
Masoud Salehiborujeni, Author provided

First, our system meets strict electricity reliability and hot water temperature parameters: meaning it’s guaranteed to work well when needed. The lifetime cost of installation, maintenance, as well as use, is approximately 25% less than that of its diesel counterpart.

Third, it’s able to cut reliance on the grid during PeakIt is possible to reduce your electricity consumption hours. This reduces grid stress and makes power outages more frequent. This environmentally friendly solution also reduces harmful emissions. greenhouse gas emissionsTo burn diesel.

The main obstacle to making solar-based backup systems in sub-Saharan Africa a norm is the cost. Their initial cost is six times higher than that of an equivalent diesel-based system: around £7,200 compared with £1,200.

Many households will be unable to afford this initial investment, especially those with lower incomes. Here’s where governments and utility companies will have to step in to provide Loans and grantsThis allows everyone to have access to this technology.

Despite the disappointing outcome of the recent UN Climate Change Conference for many African countries, COP26The developed countries have pledged to at least double their climate adaptation financing to developing nations by 2025. Some of the money will go towards solar-based backup systems to reduce the hum of diesel generators. sub-Saharan Africa.


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