Perspective of a Young Professional in the Renewable Energy Space

A technological revolution in farming led by advances in robotics and sensing technologies looks set to disrupt modern practice.

Armandine Joana Afua Amessouwoe is currently a Mastercard Scholar at Arizona State University pursuing MSc in Electric Power and Energy Systems after getting a BSc in Electrical and Electronic engineering from Ashesi University in June 2021. Armandine is passionate about renewable energy systems because sustainable energy presents different solutions the energy crises without harming the environment. She aims to contribute the development of renewable energy technologies and designing efficient power grids in Africa and worldwide. During her internship with SMEC Ghana, Joana has acquired skills in engineering projects management, design, and construction of substations. 

 Armandine worked on the following projects: 

  • Pokuase Bulk Supply Point substation with a total capacity of 580 MVA (330/34.5 kV GRIDCO Substation & 33/11 kV indoor ECG Substation)  
  • Kasoa Bulk Supply Point GIS 161/34.5 kV with a total capacity of 435MVA 
  • Low Voltage bifurcations projects 

 We asked her to share her dreams about powering Africa and what she would like to see happening in adopting sustainable energy practices on the continent. 

What are the challenges facing renewable energy adoption? 

I am currently a graduate student at Arizona State University, majoring in Electric Power and Energy Systems. During Spring 2021, One of my coursework was Renewable Energy Systems, and I learned more about the challenges facing renewable energy adoption. The main challenges are: 

  • The cost 
  • The fact that renewable energy sources are intermittent and present a lot of uncertainties 
  • The lack of utility-scale storage, the reliability of the grid in case of high penetration of these renewable sources  
  • The mismatch between the peak generation and the peak load  

 I love the concept of solar energy a lot because I am always amazed by the abundance of daily sunshine we have in many African countries. Solar panels convert solar energy or sunlight into DC power using the photovoltaic (PV) effect. A solar inverter converts the DC power into AC power for usage in the household. However, there is a need to store excess solar energy in a battery because supply must always be equal to demand. The good news is that excess solar energy can either be fed into the electricity grid for credits or stored in the battery storage systems depending on the type of system. The complexity comes in because most of the storage systems available are limited in terms of their capacities.  

What renewable energy sources are currently being used in Ghana? 

 According to Ghana’s Renewable Energy Act, 2011 (Act 832), non-depleting energy sources are classified as renewables such as hydro, wind, solar, biomass, landfill gas, biofuel, ocean energy, geothermal energy, and sewage gas. I am aware that the renewable sources currently being used in Ghana are solar, wind energy, biomass, and hydropower. However, some countries do not consider hydropower as renewable. According to the Environment Protection Agency, hydropower is renewable because the water from hydropower is an endless and constant recharging system that is not reduced or used up in the process. Some researchers have also shown that dams and reservoirs are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. 

What is the uptake of renewable energy solutions by businesses and households in Ghana in recent times? 

Back home, I lived in the Volta Region of Ghana in a town called Aflao. I have not seen any development or improvement of business and even households in Aflao adopting renewable energy solutions. In my immediate community, every home with electricity relies on the national grid. Whenever there is a power outage, you will hear people shouting out of despair and others running out to buy candles, kerosene, matches, etc., because that is the only alternative available.  

Until 2009 when I was completing my Junior High School, my family could not afford electricity and I used torchlight and candles to study at home. The day we finally got connected to the grid is still fresh in my mind and I remember the happy faces of everyone in the family.  

Sunlight is one primary renewable energy source that we have in abundance in Ghana and many other African countries. However, it is not really exploited in the country, and from my research, the percentage of non-hydro renewable energy contribution to the electric grid in Ghana ranges between 0.2% to 0.5%. For me it is about our mindset and people being willing to embrace modern technologies. However, people are primarily concerned by the reliability and cost of renewable technologies. If the country can exploit these resources and make them affordable, many people will start using them.  

Even though I am passionate about renewable energy technologies, I am also interested in making the electric grid more reliable. The fact is that many renewable energy sources are not dispatchable and need storage for users to continue having access to electricity. Combining renewable energy systems with existing energy sources will be the best option for every household and business because when one is not available, there is always a backup plan. More renewable energy sources can be prioritized for remote areas where the national electric grid cannot reach as we continue finding solutions to the complexity of integrating renewable energy resources into the national grid.  

There is currently a dramatic reduction in the cost of PV and wind energy systems. Educating people on the benefits and importance of using renewable and clean energy sources to reduce/prevent global warming and ensure sustainable development can help them better understand the “why” behind the motivation for renewable resources.  

What are some of the innovative technologies in power generation under development that you are aware of? 

Yes, I know of microgrids which are sources of localized power generation. I have read about microgrids. They offer added reliability because of their ability to operate outside of the traditional grid using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Some of the other technologies under development are energy storage technologies such as batteries, hydro-reservoirs, thermal energy storage, and Power-to-X fuels.  

 What kind of contribution do you see yourself making in the energy sector in the future? 

At a personal level, I acknowledge that I have experienced the hardship of living in a household without electricity for many years because my parents could not afford it. However, after we got electricity in our home, we still could not control its availability.  

Like many other students across the globe, I took classes online for a year before coming to the U.S to complete my master’s degree in person this year. During my first exam at ASU, there was a power outage at 11:30 PM, 5 mins before my exam at 11:35 PM my time in Ghana because of the time zone difference. I needed electricity to take this exam because the remote proctoring software used RPNow would not allow me to take an exam in darkness; worst-case scenario, my computer ran out of battery. I needed to plug my MTN TurboNet into the socket as well to connect to the internet. The hostel facility did not have any backup plan for electricity and relied solely on the national grid. That was a terrible experience, and fortunately, the professor agreed to shift the exam time to the morning, hoping that the power would be restored by then.  

I plan to contribute to the reliability of the power grid in the future and the installation of renewable and other off-grid technologies. Electric power is obviously a necessity. Its unavailability within a minute can lead to many unfortunate events such as what I just described or loss of property and lives in other cases. 

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