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Leveraging African expertise: Distributed energy systems for Europe’s TowerCo revolution

Mike Rosenberg, CEO of Circadian Technologies, looks at how our experience with distributed energy systems in collaboration with leading African TowerCos is attracting the attention of European Mobile Operators and TowerCos.

In Europe, the commitment to decarbonization, electrification, and grid-scale flexibility necessitates that Mobile Operators and TowerCos build around distributed energy systems.

The recent implementation of the Picasso system, a European platform for exchanging balancing energy from frequency restoration reserves, further accelerates this transition, highlighting the critical infrastructure needed to support the EU grid and expedite the energy shift.

Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) are emerging to connect distributed energy assets, revolutionizing the energy landscape and frequently topping the agenda at Industry events in Europe.

VPPs involve the adoption of IoT, supported by edge computing and distributed lithium energy storage, to aggregate and efficiently utilize distributed energy assets such as solar panels and battery storage systems.

My experience with battery and storage management in Africa, where distributed energy systems are prevalent, is garnering interest from the TowerCo community in Europe, having participated at TowerXchange (London)  and Small Cells World Summit (London) earlier this year.

As Europe integrates more renewables into its grid, increased volatility is inevitable. Deploying 3-4 hours of regulated backup power for the over 270,000 towers in the EU Big 5 countries alone would require up to 5.4 GWh. 

These distributed lithium batteries could be aggregated into VPPs and monetized by participating in Frequency Containment Reserve (FCR) and automatic Frequency Restoration Reserve (aFRR) markets, providing critical stability for Europe’s grid. 

Notably, Elisa a mobile operator in the Nordics, known for their commitment to a greener future, is already paving the way for the rest of Europe. 

Nevertheless, we might consider looking beyond Europe for domain experience.

In Africa, the grid is often compromised. For example, in Nigeria, 40,000 towers are off-grid or severely grid-challenged. Leading TowerCos like IHS Towers and American Towers and their partner ESCOs have been deploying hundreds of MWh of lithium storage over the past decade to maintain uptime.

As electricity grids in Nigeria and other African countries develop with more PV, these market mechanisms can enable stability anchored by distributed energy. 

This industry in Africa has always had to adapt to difficult conditions and, in many ways, is ahead of Europe in terms of the distributed energy model.