Smart Grids for Improved Grid Performance in Developing Countries

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Smart grids have been a topic of much interest recently. They offer many advantages in terms of optimising the performance of electricity networks especially for more complex and decentralised networks. Most research on smart grids so far has been centred around their application in developed countries with sophisticated power infrastructure. This article will instead be investigating the potential for the deployment of smart grid technologies in developing countries, where network infrastructure is less advanced. First off, this article defines several terms relevant to this topic. Following this, the article moves on to present an overview of smart grids in developing economies. This is done by investigating the opportunities and barriers for smart grid deployment in developing countries as well as looking into the main drivers for smart grid investment. In addition to this, the article examines the smart grid potential specifically for the West African electricity network, looking at the potential implementation of smart grid technologies in the transmission networks, distribution networks, consumer side as well as mini-grids.

Definition of Terms

Smart Grid

Various, slightly altering, definitions have been proposed for the term smart grid. In this article the term smart grid will be used in line with the definition proposed by the IEA in their report Technology Roadmap: Smart Grids, which states that a “smart grid is an electricity network that uses digital and other advanced technologies to monitor and manage the transport of electricity from all generation sources to meet the varying electricity demands of end-users. Smart grids co-ordinate the needs and capabilities of all generators, grid operators, end-users and electricity market stakeholders to operate all parts of the system as efficiently as possible, minimising costs and environmental impacts while maximising system reliability, resilience and stability.”[1] Smart grids usually encompass the full electricity system, including transmission and distribution networks, the generators, grid storage systems and end-users. Figure 1 below shows the different areas of application for different smart grid technologies through the network.[1]

Smart Grid Technology Areas.png

Smart grids can vary significantly in terms of their design and layout. The one critical component which sets a smart grid apart from the usual grid is that it includes some form of communication network in addition to the traditional power network. The number of different smart grid technology and appliances available is rapidly increasing. Some of the most commonly implemented smart grid technologies include:

  • Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), including smart meters, in home displays, servers, relay, communications equipment to improve revenue collection, combat electricity theft, receive outage notification as well as service and maintenance scheduling.
  • Advanced electricity pricing, often including more complex tariff structures to influence consumer behaviour.
  • Demand response, using AMI to target the consumer’s control over systems and devices, thus being able to shift peak loads, increase the system flexibility and make use of cheap time-of-use tariffs.
  • Distributed automation which uses automated re-closers, switches, capacitors, remote-controlled distributed generation and storage, transformer sensors, as well as wire and cable sensors to allow for an automated control of the grid during various scenarios.
  • Renewable resource forecasting, whereby weather forecasting is used to predict the future availability of renewable power on the network.
  • Smart inverters which are digital inverters with a programming interface capable of sending and receiving information. They can be used to quickly identify O&M issues as well as to remotely controlling the inverter.
  • Distributed energy resources, including power conditioning equipment and communications and control hardware for grid/off-grid power generation technology.
  • Distributed storage including power conditioning equipment and communications and control hardware for storage technology or power conversion technologies.
  • Transmission enhancement, using superconductors, Flexible Alternating Current Transmission System (FACTS) and High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) to improve network stability and automated recovery.
  • Mini/Microgrids, which are defined in the next paragraph:

Local Grid

Local grid is a broad term used to describe grid systems which operate separately from the national utility grid. Various, sometimes conflicting, definitions have been composed to describe different types of local grid systems.[2] The term mini-grid is often used to describe a network which involves “small-scale electricity generation (from 10kW to 10MW), and the distribution of electricity to a limited number of customers via a distribution grid that can operate in isolation from national electricity transmission networks and supply relatively concentrated settlements with electricity at grid quality level.”[3] In the energy access sector, the term describes a system similar to a mini-grid, but operating at a smaller size and generation capacity (1-10 kW)[3]. However, outside of the energy access sector the term micro-grid is sometimes used to referred to a network which contains loads and distributed energy resources and which can connect and disconnect from the main utility grid.[2] In this article the terms mini and micro-grids will be used based on the definitions from the Mini-grid Policy Toolkit, written by Franz, et al,[3] as they are most relevant to the applications in developing countries.

For many developing countries, off-grid energy systems, such as mini-grids, present the most economical and solution for providing energy access to the population, especially in rural areas.[4] Therefore, when investigating the potential of smart grids in developing countries it is essential to also consider the role of local grids. Mini-grids can be designed to incorporate a communications network, which turns them into ‘smart mini-grids’, based on the definition of a smart grid outlined above.

Grid Performance

Many different criteria and benchmarks have been developed for assessing various grid performance parameters.[5] However, in this article grid performance will be assessed simply based on 1) network losses 2) power outages 3) population served 4) consumer tariffs and 5) integration of new (renewable) generation capacity, since these are the main aspects of concern for grid development in West Africa.[6] 

Smart Grids in Developing Economies: An Overview

The large interest in smart grids is relatively new, and most of the research and investment on the topic has come from developed countries, mainly in Europe and North America. Smart grid development is currently still tied very closely to the economic development of countries. Furthermore, most smart grid development so far has been focused in countries with high renewable energy targets, as they are starting to face problems with the stability of their power supply due to more intermittent generation. For most developing countries, renewable energy generation is not a top priority, as they are more concerned with achieving universal energy access.[7] Nevertheless, the potential for applying smart grid technology in developing countries is increasingly being explored.[1] Most case studies published on the topic of smart grids in developing countries so far focused on more emerging economies, such as China, India, Brazil, and Mexico. As of yet, very little experience has been gathered with smart grid technology in the world’s least economically developed nations.

However, smart grid technology presents many advantages for improving grid performance and increasing energy access in these less developed economies. Most developing countries still have largely underdeveloped grid networks, giving them the opportunity of leapfrogging in terms of technical development and going straight for a smart grid network when expanding their infrastructure. Especially if the country is planning on expanding its renewable energy capacity, investing in smart grids technology will be advantageous, due to the increased flexibility and grid responsiveness gained.[8]

Nevertheless, smart grid projects in developing economies should be assessed and evaluated carefully, especially on a financial level, to ensure that the limited amount of capital available in these countries is invested wisely. Recovering the costs for smart grid investment might prove to be difficult in developing countries, due to the cap on the amount by which utility tariffs can be raised and still remain affordable for the majority of the population. It should, however, be considered that smart grid technology is often mutually reinforcing, so that while initial investments may be quite high, future projects can easily build upon existing technology, thus reducing their payback time. Table 1 summarises some of the opportunities and challenges which smart grids present for developing countries.[4]

Table 1: Overview of the opportunities and challenges which smart grids present for developing countries. Information has been summarised from Kempener, R. et al., 2015.[4]



Early stage grid development allows developing countries to technology ‘leapfrog’ and directly install smart grid technologies when building up their T&D network.

Utilities in developing countries are often capital-constrained, limiting their ability to invest into smart grid projects, even if they are economically viable.

Potential for innovative energy services such as linking payments to the mobile communications network, installing local charging stations, or using mini/micro grids for rural electrification.

Upper cap on the utility tariffs which can be charged so as still to remain affordable for the users. Therefore, difficult to retrieve O&M for the system.

Reduce technical and power theft losses in the power network. By recording electricity loads across the power lines smart grids can be used to track and reduce these losses.

Lack of detailed data, for example of the systems operation and consumer demographic. This kind of data is not readily available in all developing countries.


Regulatory and institutional issues may limit innovation. For example: regional standards, harmonising of different power networks, ensuring data privacy.


When implemented effectively, and combined with increased renewable energy capacity, smart grids can bring along many benefits for developing countries, especially in terms of reducing power outages and electrical losses in the system. Table 2 lists the main benefits, as determined by an IRENA study on smart grid in developing countries. Most of the benefits will be experienced by the utility and by society in general. However, the main benefit which can be expected from the smart grid is a reduction in power outages, which will mostly be of advantage for the electricity customers. Although reduced outages also mean that the utility will not lose out as much in electricity sales due to sustained outage times.[9]

Table 2: Benefits when investing into smart grid technology in a developing country, sorted from highest benefit at the top to lowest benefits at the bottom[10]



Primary Beneficiary


Reduced sustained outages



Reduced electricity losses



Reduced CO2 emissions



Reduced ancillary service costs



Deferred distribution investments



Reduced SOx NOx and PM10 emissions



Reduced equipment failure



Smart grid technologies present opportunities for both developed and developing countries. However, an IEA investigation into the driving factors for the adoption of smart grid technologies in developing economies revealed that these often vary in comparison to the drivers in developed economies. [11]Figure 2 below shows a comparison of the main motives for smart grid investments in developed and developing countries. The comparison indicated that while improving system efficiency is important for both developed and developing countries, increasing system reliability and achieving secure revenue collection has a higher priority in developing economies, as oppose to developed countries.[12]

Image 2: Comparing the main drivers for smart grid adaption in developing and developed countries. Date is based on a graph from (IEA, 2015b) which was originally adapted from (Wang, 2012)

Due to these different drivers for smart grid investment, developing countries also usually have different technological priorities when it comes to smart grids.[13] Figure 3 below shows a comparison of the technological priorities for smart grid installations in developing and developed countries.

Comparing the technological priorities for smart grids in developing and developed countries (Wang, 2012)

Additionally, Table 3 below lists a few of the common challenges faced by the electricity network in many developing countries and the respective smart grid solutions which can be used to address these challenges.

Table 3: Potential challenges in the electricity network and the corresponding smart grid solutions.[8]

Challenges in changing energy system

Smart grid solutions

Renewable and distributed generations

Balancing generation and demand, new business models

Limited generation and grid capacity

Load management and peak avoidance

Ageing and/or weak infrastructure

Reliability through automatic outage prevention and restoration

Costs and emissions of energy supply

Efficient generation, transmission, distribution and consumption

Revenue losses due to non-technical losses such as power theft

Full transparency and distribution level and automated loss prevention.

Overall, this brief overview of smart grid technologies in developing countries shows that while there is a potential for smart grid development, projects implemented in developing countries need to be planned and assessed carefully. This is because different countries will have different expectations and requirements from smart grid technologies. Especially in developing countries, it should be ensured that the roll out of smart grid technologies is tailored to the needs of the electricity network in question, so as to prevent ineffective investments of already limited capital. The studies reviewed in this section indicate that the main drivers for smart grid development in developing economies are reliability and efficiency improvements, as well as improving revenue collection. The integration of renewable energy generation, as well as opening new markets and increasing customer flexibility are much less of a priority for developing countries than they are for developed countries. Therefore, the needs of developing countries might well be met with a different layout of smart grid technologies than those often implemented in developed countries.

Investigating the Potential for Smart Grids in West Africa

Most studies seem to agree that there is a potential for smart grid technologies in the power grid. However, it is often emphasised that the demands for a smart grid system in West African countries will be different to those in most developed countries.[14]Therefore, it is important to develop a smart grid road map tailored to the needs of the region. It may be useful to consider experiences and lessons learned from other developed and emerging economies, however, these should not always be directly applied.[15] Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that even amongst the member states of the West African Power Pool (WAPP) there is a large range of electrification statuses and advances in grid development. Therefore, smart grid needs may further differ from country to country.

Generally, the demand for smart grids in most of Sub-Saharan Africa stems from a need to increase the amount of available capacity, reduce losses in the system and lower the cost of electrical distribution and electricity tariffs in remote villages.[14] The smart grid approach for West Africa might consist of a balanced development of regional grid integration, national grid enhancement, and decentralized mini-grids.[15] The smart grid interface and smart metering structures needed to serve the demands of the network will most likely not need to be as complex as those currently being developed in Europe or North America.[14]

At present, very few smart grid technologies have been implemented in West Africa, however, the “topic is being actively discussed in the region especially in relations with renewable energy deployment”.[16] Resources such as (Kotua, 2016)[17] and (Kouassi, 2016)[18] support this, showing that the potential for smart grid deployment is seriously being considered in some West African countries and that the first few pilot project have already been started.

Also in the global mini-grid sector smart grid technologies are still not the standard, however, they are increasingly being considered as an option for overcoming some common problems faced with revenue collection and maintenance issues.[19]

This section outlines some of the possible smart grid solutions proposed by various studies for the region of West Africa. In some cases, solutions proposed for developing countries outside of the region of West Africa will also be included, if the demands of the districted network are seen to be similar to those in West Africa. The break down for this section will be smart grid technologies for 1) transmission lines and substations 2) distribution systems 3) consumer side 4) mini-grids.

Transmission Networks and Substations

Figure 4 below shows the WAPP High Voltage (HV) transmission network. Solid lines represent existing transmission lines, while dotted lines show where future transmission lines have been planned. The WAPP transmission network consists of two zones. The countries of zone A (Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Ivory Coast) are already interconnected. In zone B only Senegal and Mali are interconnected. The other countries in zone B (Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Gambia) are not yet connected to the regional transmission network.[20]

Figure 4: Overview of the West African Power Pool high voltage transmission network (WAPP, 2011a)

Currently, the transmission network in the WAPP region is still very underdeveloped, both within the individual country boarders as well as for cross country transmission. The WAPP Master Plan from 2011 states that difficulties faced in the transmission network can be traced back to various problems such as a lack of fuel availability due to financing problems as well as the run-down state of existing equipment which has not been maintained properly. Furthermore, frequency control on interconnection lines between countries, as well as the risk of slow oscillation when major generation units go off-lien, are also listed as problems. Also, the lack of sufficient short-term power reserve in zone A limits the functionality of the interconnection lines between the countries. Due to these issues “significant part of the installed capacity in production units in the area is currently unavailable”.[21]

In addition to these technical problems the grid also struggles with non-technical losses such as power theft, fraud, and non-payment of bills. The WAPP Master Plan includes a few suggestions for addressing these problems in the transmission network, however, smart grid technologies are not directly mentioned.[21] This might be due to the fact that the plan is already a bit outdated and smart grid technologies where not yet as developed and readily available then as they are today.

Information gained from personal correspondence with an ECREE advisor indicates that while smart grid technology has been identified as an option for the transmission network in the WAPP region, its implementation is only happening very slowly. However, a few smart grid technologies have already been installed in the West African transmission network, such as  new substations with a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems.[16] SCADA system are often described as the brain of a smart grid, allowing for automated decisions to be made based on real-time data. Algorithms can be used to adjust the grid to disruptions, thus improving system stability.[22]

In addition to the transmission problems mentioned above, the WAPP Master Plan goes on to outline a few network constraints which the system will likely be facing during the deployment period of the planned expansion of the interconnecting lines between the WAPP member states. The following section examines how these different constraints might benefit from the implementation of smart grid technologies. Figure 5 below shows the predicted regional trade between WAPP member countries in 2030, once the interconnecting transmission network has been expanded.

Figure 5: : Predicted regional trade between WAPP member states in 2030 based on a renewable promotion scenario (Miketa & Merven, 2013)

Power System Stabilisers

During the progressive interconnection stage the network is expected to go through a phase where it is less stable due to weaker interconnections. This will result in poorly damped oscillation due to long distances involved, thereby threatening the stability of the grid, potentially to the point that it can no longer operate properly. To counteract this, the WAPP Master Plan proposes the installation of PSS on all currently operating large machines, as well as for all new machines being installed form this point onwards.[23] PSS provide increased stability by damping generator rotor angle swings with broad frequency ranges.[24] While not necessarily a smart grid technology, they can be integrated into smart grid controls systems using more advanced data processing methods to improve their performance.[25]

Under Frequency and Under Voltage Load Shedding (UFSL, UVLS)

The deployment of the current interconnection plan would remove necessary redundancy in the grid during the construction phase. To maintain a minimal amount of redundancy either large investments into the transmission network would have to be made, or special protection and defence schemes must be put in place which will have to be harmonized among the WAPP countries. This would consist of UFSL and UVLS, which could potentially also benefit from smart grid technology. Smart UFSL and UVLS system could use real time data to calculate the exact amount of load shedding required, based on the disturbance detected in the network as described in Charles et al. (2016)[26] and Chuvychin & Petrichenko (2013)[27].

WAPP Information and Control Centre (ICC)

The long distances which the interconnection lines will have to cover will affect the system stability which in turn will limit the exchange of electricity between the countries. This issue could be addressed by setting a maximum value for electricity transmission, however, this value would be very low since it would have to account for the worst-case scenario in terms of system stability. Therefore, in order to maximise transmission and still maintain system stability, the electricity exchange limits will have to be calculated regularly, using up to date data about the network conditions. This will require a form of smart grid control system with a functioning communication system that encompasses all WAPP countries. Day-ahead forecasts will be used to calculate the future stability limits. The WAPP Master Plan mentions that this could be achieved through the WAPP ICC.[28]

General Overview of Smart Grid Technologies for the Transmission Network

Technical losses in the transition network as well as at substations can be very large, especially when long distances are covered. Smart grids technologies could be used to address this problem by facilitating maintenance schedules as well as improving the performance of power lines and transformers. This could, for example, involve the use of superconducting fault current limiting transformers as well as high-temperature conductors, dynamic line rating and FACTS. Data for the various sensors could be processed using wide-area monitoring to facilitate real-time decision making. However, advanced monitoring systems will depend on a roll out of smart grid technologies throughout the entire transmission system, which requires quite complex grid infrastructure and design.[15] Therefore, while overall a very promising technology, it might not be feasible for the region of West Africa, with its currently still rather limited transmission network.

Distribution Network

Globally, the uptake of smart grid technologies in the distribution network has been much slower to progress in comparison to the uptake in the transmission network[8]. This is because smartening the distribution network is more challenging than smartening the transmission network.[1] However, there are many benefits of associated with smart distribution networks.[15] The distribution network makes up the largest percentage of the total electrical system length and most of the electrical demand and renewable energy generation is connected to this section of the power grid.[8]

Some forms of smart grid control have already made their way into the West African distribution network. Based on information from ECREE some countries in the region have started to install “transformers and meters that are equipped with data acquisition systems, allowing them to be accessed remotely through Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). These can be used to detect power theft which can then be acted upon, thus reducing commercial losses in the distribution grid”.[16] Figure 6 below shows an image of smart meters which have been installed in the Ivory Coast to combat power theft and gather data on the operation the distribution network.[18] High voltage distribution lines can also be used as a way of reducing power theft, as well as improving the quality and reliability of the power delivered.[15]

Image of smart meters installed in a village in the Ivory Cost (Kouassi, 2016)

Further, smart grid control in the distribution network could be achieved by Distributed Automation Systems (DAS). These usually consist of hardware, such as controllers, protective relays, reclosers, voltage regulator controls and fault circuit indicators, as well as some form of communication system. DAS can use network defined algorithms to create a system for fault detection, isolation and network reconfiguration. Furthermore, they can be used to collect general data on the distribution grid’s operation patterns, which can be useful for operators and planners.[12]

Somewhat more simple smart grid technologies for the distribution network include smart sensors and flexible intelligent switches as well as interrupters installed at critical locations in the distribution network. These could help reduce power outages without resulting in high increases of consumer tariffs. Furthermore, smart grid technologies can be used to facilitate the integration of renewable energy generation into the distribution network. Especially in rural areas distributed generation can be used to increase energy access and avoid high connection costs.[15] For example, smart distributed PV inverters offer many advantages both financially, by offsetting the coasts of switch capacitor banks, as well as in terms of improving distribution line efficiencies.[10]

Consumer Side

Customer side smart grid management, or Demand Side Management (DSM), often involves time-of-use tariffs or other forms of advanced pricing schemes which incentives a dynamic change in the consumer’s electricity consumption which can be used to manage peak loads. This is often implemented through AMI.[29] A further form of customer side smart grid involvement which is often mention is the use of smart appliance, which automatically switch on and off depending on current grid conditions. While in theory this sound very promising, the reality is that in most West African countries effective DSM is very difficult to achieve. This is because in many cases, especially in more rural areas, consumer energy use is very basic and usually only consists of lighting, fans, radios and occasionally TVs and fridges. Therefore, most of the load is naturally shifted towards evening times when people are at home and there is hardly any opportunity for extensive load shedding. Only in more urban areas, with larger loads and higher energy consumption for productive use, does DSM make sense.[19]

However, the idea of achieving DSM through the telecommunications network, which has been rolled out and adapted very successfully throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, is often suggested.[30] A few projects have already been tested where consumers can access real time data on their energy consumption using their mobile phone. They can also top up their prepaid electricity meters using mobile phone credit. One example of a pilot project has been mentioned in which a household’s grid connection has an upper capacity limit. If this capacity is exceeded by the user, the system trips and they automatically receive a text message alerting them of the problem and instructing them to disconnect one of their devices in order to be reconnected. Models such as this are seen as promising for future smart grid management through consumer involvement.[31] A further example of smart grid technology installed on the consumption side of the network is shown in Figure 7 below. It is a remote management and monitoring system for street lights installed in the Ivory Coast. The system is used to oversee the performance of the street lights as well as to alert the operator of when a failure occurs and maintenance is needed.[18]

Remote management and monitoring of street lights in the Ivory Coast (Kouassi, 2016)

Remote management and monitoring of street lights in the Ivory Coast (Kouassi, 2016)

Smart Mini-Grids

Mini-grids are mentioned in virtually all studies which concentrate on electrification in West Africa. Large portions of West Africa’s population still live in remote and rural area, although this is starting to change.[32] This rural demographic is often best served through standalone mini-grids, rather than through expansions of the national power grid, which are often economically unfeasible as well as taking a long time to realise.[19] Furthermore, long transmission lines into remote areas will result in high losses.[33] Therefore, many studies suggest a ’bottom-up’ electrification approached, as illustrated in Figure 8 below. This approach suggests that developing and emerging economies can make use of smart grids to build up from household electrification systems to community and regional systems. For this to be feasible, standards must be set for these mini-grids, which will allow them to one day be seamlessly connected with the next larger grid. Each successive upscaling can increase the grid’s reliability and availability of power.[1]

Outline of a Potential Rural Electrification Pathway in Developing Counties.JPG

Despite the numerous advantages which mini-grids present for rural area, most studies see them only as a mid-term solution, to provide basic energy access until the main utility network can be expanded into these remote areas. Especially in countries experiencing strong economic growth this might prove to be the more advantageous option, since larger grids can offer more stability.[15] Naturally, the prospects for upgrading a mini-grid system to a main grid connected system will depend on the specific circumstances of the mini-grid involved, such as the distance from the main utility network as well as the demographical development in that area. A combination of these factors could be used to determine whether future upscaling of the mini-grid is likely or not.[19]

Some experts, however, completely distance themselves from this approach and instead suggest long term planning for stand-alone mini-grids. They argue that the concept of the centralised grid network is outdated and inefficient and that well managed smart mini-grids, or even stand-alone renewable energy devices, offer more advantages, even in the long run. It has been suggested that with the current development of smart grid technologies, developing economies can leapfrog the traditional power network structure and use smart control systems to develop distributed energy system to their full advantages. [34][35]

In either case, mini-grids must be able to operate effectively off the central grid for the upcoming years, ideally offering more reliable access to electricity for rural populations. Smart grid technologies can be implemented to achieve this, by increasing the performance standards for mini-grids. This mainly involves incorporating technologies which can be used to even out fluctuation supply and demand conditions, for example through advanced load control strategies instead of conventional load shedding.[15]

Additionally, smart grid technology, especially AMI can be used to improve the financially viability of mini grids. Currently many mini-grids which have already been installed in West Africa struggle to remain operational because the consumer tariffs do not cover the O&M costs for the grid. While international donor funding is often available for the construction of rural mini-grids, few donors are willing to commit to regular payments for the upkeep of the systems. AMI could be used to monitor the O&M coasts and achieve more secure revenue collection which will allow for more sustainable and long term operation conditions. Prepaid metering systems have been identified as a very promising solution for addressing financial viability problems. This is mainly because they offer a good payment option for rural populations without a stable monthly income and because they create a direct link between costs and electricity consumption, which furthermore encourages efficient consumer behaviour.[19] Secure revenues for mini-grid developers mean that they are more likely to invest in further mini-grid projects, thus contributing towards achieving universal energy access in the region.[15] 

Conclusion and Recommendation

A combined overview of the energy situation in West Africa, as well as the potential advantages of smart grid technologies, shows that many of the problems currently being faced by the electricity sector in West Africa could be addressed through smart grid solutions. The general literature review on smart grid implementation in developing countries shows that the deployment of some smart grid technologies may benefit the performance of the electricity grid in developing countries. However, the review also highlights the importance of tailoring smart grid solutions specifically to the needs of each individual country. This is to ensure that limited capital is invested effectively.

Focusing in detail on the smart grid potential in West Africa shows that there are various possible applications for smart grid technologies through the West African grid, including the transmission network, the distribution network and the customer side of the grid. Especially in long-distance transmission networks, smart grid technologies have the potential to reduce the high losses currently occurring as well as to improve overall system stability. In the distribution network, there is a need for smart grid solutions to prevent power theft and fraud, as well to facilitate the integration of new distributed renewable generation capacity. On the customer side the application of smart grid technologies is slightly more limited, however, the potential for combining smart grid solutions with the telecommunications network to improve consumer involvement seems promising. Furthermore, smart grid technologies can provide many advantages for the stable operation of mini-grids. Mini-grids can be used to increase energy access in rural area, integrate new renewable energy generation and facilitate a ‘bottom-up’ electrification approach. Furthermore, there is a large demand for AMI to ensure the financial viability of mini-grids.

The main challenges facing the roll out of smart grid technologies are similar to the barriers facing the development of the energy sector as a whole in the ECOWAS region. This includes problems with weak policies and regulations, lack of financial investment as well as the general insufficient availability of data on the energy sector in West Africa. An increase in data available on the West African energy sector would have many advantages for the facilitation of new energy projects in the region. Reliable data might allow for new, better informed, policies to be created as well as increasing the confidence of potential investors. This could help the development of smart grid technologies in the region. However, the lack of data available for the electricity network in West Africa could in fact also be used as a driver for the investment in smart grid technology, since an increase in smart grid technologies throughout the grid would also result in a greater availability of data.

Further Information

This article is a shortened version of the report Smart Grids for Improved Grid Performance in Developing Countries - Focusing on the Region of West Africa.

Further information related to this topic can be found here:


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