Kenya’s Power Utilities Should Include Smart Grid Functions in National Code

Kenya Power Company, Kenya’s largest power utility, should come up with technical regulations that require only solar PV inverters with smart grid management functions are connected to its distribution grid.

Guido Baumstieger, product manager at SMA Solar Technology, a Germany global specialist for PV systems, which has been providing training on use of its products in Kenya through the SMA Solar Academy program, also said the solar PV inverter smart grid management functions should be included in the national grid code, which is currently under review.

“Kenya Power Company, which owns the distribution grid, should define smart grid management functions together with the market regulator, the Energy Regulatory Authority, so that only high-quality solar PV inverters are available in the market,” he told Renewable Energy World in an email response.

“Use of solar PV inverters with smart grid management functions would lead to quality distribution systems and could win the confidence of financiers who can provide loans to residential and commercial segments to cater for upfront costs for the installation of generation systems,” he said.

Baumstieger said the issue of quality inverters is critical now because of the entry of cheap inverters into the East Africa market, especially from Asia.

“These cheap inverters spoil the distribution system with current peaks in the distribution grid and worse with electrical magnetic influences,” he said.

The Energy Regulatory Commission, Kenya’s energy sector regulator, is working on the final draft of the National Distribution Code, which provides market guidelines for power connection to the grid and has specific requirements for averting current peaks or harmonics in the distribution grid.

A previous report published under the Project Development Program (PDP) East Africa that is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, suggested additional proposals to the national grid code to allow for inclusion of inverter based generators, or generators connected to the low voltage grid.

The report, ‘Technical and Economical Assessment of Net-Metering in Kenya’ said that including these inverters in the national grid code “would clarify the requirements for potential independent power producers.”

However, the report notes that modern PV inverters comply with the current Kenya grid code, now under review, and meet the 2012 internationally accepted German grid management functions, which include “active filtering by injecting compensating current harmonics, reactive power control, voltage level control, phase symmetry control, reduce losses at the transmission and the distribution grid, support the grid during disturbances and balance of non-symmetric loads.”

PDP recommended that only PV inverters that meet all these requirements be allowed into the Kenyan grid.

Baumstieger said inverters that meet international standards, especially those harmonized with the German inverter standards, would create benefits for both the country’s power utility Kenya Power Company and private customers in all categories, including residential (0-10 kW), small commercial (10-50 kW) and commercial (50-1,000 kW).

“Quality solar inverters will ensure Kenya Power Company gets quality additional capacities that support the stabilization of its distribution grid,” he said, adding that, using inverters with smart grid management functions will also enable private customers get high quality and reliable product to produce clean and cheaper energy.

He said the use of solar inverters that comply with international standards, such as IEC 61000-3-5:1994 and IEC 61000-3-3:1994, makes it possible to stabilize the national distribution grid and also for emerging markets, such as Kenya, to lock out “cheap inverters especially from Asia which spoil the distribution system with harmonics or current peaks in the distribution grid and worse electrical magnetic influences.”

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Shem Oirere has previously been a sub-editor in Kenya’s People Daily newspaper in addition to reporting widely on the business beat for several other Kenyan newspapers. He currently freelances, reporting extensively on Africa’s construction, energy and chemical industries for various international publications.

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