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We have created the first AI-powered, solar electricity backup system for homes in sub-Saharan Africa.

We have created the first AI-powered, solar electricity backup system for homes 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. They were relieved to find that the utility company restored a large power station two days later. 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 can afford to invest in it tend not to. 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 energyBecause of its relatively low cloud coverage and high sunlight, it has the highest generation potential in the world. Intensity. It is urgently needed to find reliable ways to harvest clean, free solar energy without polluting the grid.

Along with 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 did

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 is required to ensure reliable electricity supply. 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. If the battery is full, excess electricity can be used to heat water and sold back to power grid.

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 shows that using solar backup systems dramatically reduces electricity consumption on the grid.
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. Its lifetime costs for installation, maintenance, and use are approximately 25% lower than its diesel counterpart.

Third, it’s able to cut reliance on the grid during PeakThe hours of electricity use. This reduces grid stress and makes power outages more frequent. Fourth, this environmentally friendly solution reduces harmful emissions greenhouse gas emissionsTo burn diesel.

It is difficult to make solar-based backup systems a standard in sub-Saharan Africa. Their initial cost is six times higher than that of an equivalent diesel-based system: around £7,200 compared with £1,200.

Many households, especially those on lower incomes, will likely be put off by the initial investment. Here’s where governments and utility companies will have to step in to provide Loans and grantsThis technology is available to everyone.

Despite the disappointing outcome of the recent UN Climate Change Conference for many African nations, 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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