Critical protection for Angolas electricity grid APROT Alexandre FAJARDO

In the Angolan grid, there is essential work to be done, from the electricity generation level up to the last leg of distribution.

Alexandre FAJARDO Managing Partner APROT ENGENHARIA

Critical protection for Angola’s electricity grid

June 23, 2022

Alexandre Fajardo, managing partner of APROT Engenharia, talks to The Energy Year about the company’s work in developing critical protective systems for electricity grids, the improvements it has made to Angola’s distribution and how the country’s electric connectivity is evolving. APROT Engenharia is an Angolan provider of products and services related to automation and protective systems for the electricity grid.

What are your key insights on developing protective systems for electricity grids?
We work across a variety of areas related to the protection and stability of the system, from distribution to generation, including transportation and the industrial sector. Protection is one of the important factors that brings stability to the network. The problem is that it’s a highly specialised job, and there are few engineers available who work on this.
Another challenge is about managing the workload in order to retain the engineers engaged. For example, a power plant is built over the course of five years and we show up for a job that lasts only a month. But it’s a very important job – without it, you can end up throwing away your whole investment.

Tell us about the main challenges in stabilising the Angolan electric grid.
The major task, in essence, is the necessity to do a lot of small adjustments in a large number of installations, and this must be done for every new asset to ensure the overall stability of the grid.
In the Angolan grid, there is essential work to be done, from the electricity generation level up to the last leg of distribution, and co-ordination is necessary in order to identify the origin of a malfunction and isolate the smallest possible area where the malfunction is originating. Without proper co-ordination, we are forced to isolate a large portion of the grid, which generates network instability as powering off such large parts of the transmission system leads to significant power shocks. If isolation doesn’t happen and the malfunction is left in the system, the power plants are not able to handle it for long.
APROT’s focus is system adjustment, protection and control of the whole electric system and its levels of voltage. This was a big challenge for us in Angola as we had to look at the system as a whole, not as single power lines. It took us two years to mathematically model the system in order to identify what was happening and where within it.
Another important challenge is to raise awareness about the technical requirements for managing the protection system of the electric grid. For example, lack of experience leads to multiple assets being shut down when there is a failure, which then leads to large imbalances throughout the grid. Instead of locating the defect and deactivating it promptly, as in the case of an electrical substation, inexperience leads to deactivating multiple substations, causing greater damage.

What kind of improvements can be noted since APROT started working on Angola’s electric stability?
When we arrived in Angola, we identified the failure causing the high number of countrywide blackouts in the distribution network. Since we started working, the stability of the electric system has improved a lot, from 68 general blackouts a year to one a year in the last three years, since 2019. During the most recent blackouts we could observe the occurrence of two or more small problems simultaneously, so one important thing to do is to attack these small details.
Today we continue to face issues with many different kinds of occurrences in the grid, but these issues cannot affect the stability of the country as a whole. People in their homes might still be facing partial energy cut issues, but the nationwide grid’s stability as a whole has improved. Solving localised issues is much easier and faster than re-establishing the electric system of the whole country.
We have not yet started working on a level of 15,000 volts, a distribution level that usually reaches people directly, and there are many important improvements that have to be done at this level.


How has electric connectivity among the provinces evolved in recent years?
Today, 10 provinces are already united in the same grid. There are still eight more provinces to bring into the large grid, and the provinces of Namibe and Huíla are joining soon. Production and generation of energy in Angola has a large surplus, especially after the commissioning of the Laúca hydropower plant and the future startup of the Caculo Cabaça hydropower plant, both of which will allow for far greater consistency in power generation.
The problem of non-green energy is precisely in those provinces that are still isolated from the grid because they continue to produce energy through small generators. This issue will decrease in the coming years.
I strongly believe in the evolution of the industry and energy sectors in Angola. Their development since 2017 indicates that there is a very bright future ahead. We also see more opportunities for financing in order to expand activities.

What is APROT’s footprint in the domestic electricity grid?
We entered the market in 2017 and today have around 80 employees. We have participated, with our expertise, in around 90% of the country’s electric projects since 2018. We are the only company providing such services at this level of expertise in Angola. The other projects that we didn’t work on were catered by companies based abroad. The problem is some of these foreign companies can fix a single isolated issue, but they don’t have the knowledge of the system as a whole. APROT knows the macro structure. We know a small issue here can be causing a problem somewhere else.
There is a huge demand from the government, but the majority of our clients are contractors that deliver work to the government and we make these adjustments for them. These include Elecnor, MCA, Ossi-Yeto, Odebrecht, Omatapalo and others players. We are subcontracted by all contractors who build power plants, transmission lines, substations and more. As we work with each of them, we know the whole market inside out.

What are the details of your electric cabinet manufacturing unit?
In 2021, we opened a factory to manufacture electrical protection cabinets. Internal components are imported and then set up here specifically for each project. There are no more than 10 companies around the world that manufacture these quality specialised electric parts. We represent companies such as GE, Schweitzer and Omicron in Angola. This allows us to give support to end users and long-term warranties for the products backed by the manufacturers and official spare parts.
Having in-country manufacturing capacity adds value, not just in decreasing costs and helping economic development but also in the important development of Angolan workers’ specialisation.
We have 28 Angolan people working here. We have started transferring know-how through these assembly lines, and then they start learning to do more complex activities.

Which main variables do you see affecting the commercialisation of these cabinets?
We are looking to sell more cabinets, as there is a huge market for them here, from the industrial sector to utilities. The challenge we face when it comes to supply is that electrification or industrialisation projects are usually financed by foreign entities that prefer to import the cabinets from their own countries.
The country should follow Brazil’s example, where the international financing has an obligation to spend part of that funding locally, with an incentive to spend on local companies. Of course, the government needs to watch out not to prevent the financing from happening, which could occur if it gets too strict and the overall costs increase too much. And the first industry to go through such a scheme has to be the manufacturing industry, which is crucial for any developing country, as it adds value in-country and generates local know-how.

What is APROT’s involvement with oil companies?
In Brazil, our partner company works with Petrobras and Technip, among other clients, providing electrical control and protection systems in offshore oil platforms and refineries, which need 100% reliability in their electricity. As the systems on platforms are condensed in small spaces, it becomes hard to take a malfunctioning part out and fix it. A single generator malfunctioning might result in a platform losing a quarter of its electrical capacity, affecting oil production levels.
APROT has done generator maintenance on several platforms in Brazil. In Angola we aren’t yet operating on platforms, but we will gradually invest to bring these capabilities in-country as demand evolves.

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