Stanford University

Utility Scale Battery Storage in East Africa: A New Opportunity to Drive Clean Tech Deployment

ClockSeptember 28, 2020
David Birungi (UMEME) with Annie Baldwin
David Birungi (UMEME) with Annie Baldwin

Nathan Ratledge & Annie Baldwin

Clean electricity generation is rapidly expanding across the globe, including in East Africa. Kenya, as an example, has expanded its geothermal production substantially. It now comprises over 30% of the country’s electricity consumption. Kenya also recently installed its first large wind farm, which now accounts for 13% of the country’s installed capacity.

To continue driving clean energy – particularly wind and solar, adoption across the continent, utility scale battery storage is critical. In addition to smoothing renewable energy production, battery storage can address other common grid-based problems – like reliability and power quality, and provide significant cost savings to utilities and consumers. Improving grid reliability and quality is particularly vital for growing East Africa’s manufacturing and industrial sectors and preparing for electric vehicles.

Nathan Ratledge (PhD 5th) and Annie Baldwin (MS-MBA '19) partnered on an E-IPER Collaboration Grant to compare California’s experience with utility scale battery storage to a new market – East Africa. They started with California as it is one region leading the deployment of utility scale batteries. Their hypothesis was that battery storage is relatively more valuable in East Africa given the higher frequency of blackouts, power surges and grid balancing issues.

Following several months of interviews in California, Nathan and Annie traveled to Kenya and Uganda during June and July 2019. They met with over 50 representatives in the utility, government, aid and private sectors to understand the primary grid challenges and potential value streams for battery storage. With data in hand, they are completing a cost benefit analysis for several use cases to complement interview responses.

Their preliminary results indicate that battery storage can play an outsized role in displacing the current use of expensive fossil fuel-based generation. This is driven by the fact that East Africa is experiencing an oversupply of cheaper clean energy resources. In addition, batteries have the near-term potential for smoothing existing frequency challenges and improving power quality for industrial users. Of course, storage will also be critical in enabling future large-scale solar and wind installations. The team is currently working with several outside partners to identify and pilot storage projects in both Kenya and Uganda.

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