The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Towards Energy 4.0 in Sierra Leone
Towards the end of the 20th and the dawn of the 21st century, the world experienced a revolution that fundamentally changed human interactions and work. These revolutions came to be known as the thirds and fourth industrial revolution (4IR) respectively. The third industrial revolution was mainly focused on the development of information technology appliances (Computers) (Office of Jeremy Rifkin, 2019). This laid the foundation for the fourth industrial revolution that leveraged on the differences between the digital, physical, and biological ecosystem (Johnson, 2019). It goes further in integrating internet of things (IoT), robotics, cyber-physical systems, artificial intelligence systems in boosting manufacturing (Johnson, 2019). The trend of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) has proven to be exponential, if compared to the three it precedes that took a linear approach. This article talks about the challenges the Sierra Leone energy sector faces to champion the country’s 4IR drive, the author further explores energy access and the economy, and how strong governance will be a tool in this drive.
However, with all this growth, Sierra Leone in particular has been caught up in the global hype of the third and the fourth Industrial Revolution. The country is still fighting an uphill battle of creating access to energy that will enable daily access to energy and large scale manufacturing of goods and products. Due to the country’s slow industrialisation drive, lack of finance to invest in energy start-ups and energy efficient technologies, the country has been faced by the risk of being left behind in the development process. Infrastructural deficiencies in many districts in the country has made it difficult to leverage on the potential 4IR present in propelling the country into the age of economic prosperity and growth. According to the Global Energy Assessment (GEA) report in 2019, four challenges to sustainable development face any country that is over-reliant on fossil fuels as its primary means of energy production. These challenges include: decline in energy security, increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, lack of access to clean and affordable energy, and high rate of air pollution and resulting health issues that come from pollution (Iiasa.ac.at, 2019). Sierra Leone energy demand is further expected to grow by 60% – 65% between 2012 and 2035 (REASL, 2017). The growth in energy demand is expected to increase CO2 emissions by 20% if energy technologies continue on the current path (REASL, 2017). The African Development Bank in 2016 states that to “secure, reliable, affordable, clean and equitable energy supply presents huge challenges due to its fundamental importance to Africa economic growth and human development”. It is a potential limiting factor to economic growth, just as labour and capital are limiting factors to economic growth (ADB, 2016). Research shows three vulnerabilities plague the Sierra Leone economy in maintaining steady economic growth; these are high energy intensity, the country’s lack of power generation capacity, and the rapidly growing energy demand which the state has failed to meet.
The Fourth Industrial revolution poses a huge potential in realigning and transforming the Sierra Leone economy, but it also brings environmental and social challenges in the society. In delivering economic growth and social change, Sierra Leone should use three main drivers – energy technological advancement, energy access and energy price stability. Since the early 2000s, Sierra Leone has been experiencing rapid economic growth, and its energy consumption has risen by 65% (Awoko, 2017). However, the existing energy systems in the country are still under-developed and unable to meet high energy demand. Access to modern energy services/clean energy systems remains limited, which makes over 89% of the population living without electricity and nearly 96% rely on traditional solid biomass for cooking (Vanguard, 2019). Cost of energy production and consumption remains among the highest on the continent. According to the Trading Economics global macro model projection, the country’s economy competitiveness ranking is expected to reach 134.00 by the end of 2020 and early 2021. However, the lack of access to energy will continue to have an adverse impact on manufacturing in the country. Statistics from the World economic forum shows the country holds the second least competitive economy in the world (2012–13, World Economic Forum, Global Competitiveness Report) with 1.8 % of its GDP coming from manufacturing. Many believe the low access to electricity has been acting as a brake on Sierra Leone’s economic growth. The First industrial revolution was mainly focused on the development of steams engines to enable large scale manufacturing of goods and products, Sierra Leone will show readiness for the 4IR if access to energy becomes a reality.
The recent formation of the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) should be a resource to be utilized by the Ministry of Energy in enabling the 4IR to make way for the development of energy efficient solutions, energy systems robotics, 3D printing, introduction of cyber physical systems, AI and pervasive sensing in the energy sector. Some African states are embracing the digital grid system through the use of the smart metering system that provides automated responses to abnormal occurrences on it grid. The Energy Ministry can implement and use the energy data management systems which would evolve the country from its old fixed connections (stations and meters), to a smart wireless connected meters that will provide timely remote data analysis. The constant fire outbreak at the Kingdom power station shows the Ministry has failed to live-up to the multidirectional and integrated flow of electricity on the national grid and a technology on the grid to have a quick response to demand change. The Ministry of Energy should be thinking of how to change their traditional linear energy supply chains to a multidirectional supply chain. The Ministry of Energy should leverage on the resources of the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) to embed the concept of Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics as some of the most important emerging technologies of 4IR to disrupt and bring a transformational effect to the sector. This will help the country to have on its grid a strong energy efficient (EE) and energy management (EM), as well as measurement and verification (M&V) systems. These technologies will help in a seamless energy purchasing system and consumption track system as EE, EM, and M&V are closely linked with the top five disruptive 21st century energy technologies driving growth around the globe. These systems will enhance more efficient energy grid and systems and with the implementation of an energy management intelligence system (EMIS), will help the sector to be a data-driven support sector. The EMIS structure will consist of activities including online analytical processing, consumption data analytics, and prescriptive analytics.
The Sierra Leone electricity landscape will show readiness to embrace the 4IR, if the following factors namely: Decentralisation, Digitalisation and Democratization are considered in the country’s drive to achieve Sustainable Energy for All agenda 2030
a) Decentralization: With the potential significant technological advancements that will come from DSTI will drastically decrease the cost of energy technologies in the country. This will create the platform for electricity to be generated at the local and decentralized manner. Current energy customers rely on the national grid to meet their energy demands; however, decreasing the tension on the national grid will be a step forward in the right direction.
b) Digitalisation: Energy systems around the globe have become connected and smart through the integration of energy systems and information technology networks. Digitalisation of the national and the decentralisation of grids – with smart technologies (metering, automation, sensors), advent of internet of things, the surge of inefficient systems part of the grid and power-consuming component of the grid will always be identified.
c) Democratisation: The integration of a decentralised and digitalised national and off-grid systems will enable consumers to freely access electricity according to their preferences from multiple sources (such as their own generation or storage, their neighbours or utilities). This will make consumers manage their consumption since they have the freedom to do so.
In conclusion, the government should consider establishing a dedicated task force on “Fostering the Fourth Industrial Revolution ” which will conduct research and provide their findings to policy makers in the country as the country adapt and build resilient measures in the transition process. It will also be critical for Sierra Leone to improve its institutional framework to effectively respond to change, offer a stable policy environment and access to funding for energy start-ups.
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What do you think the current campaign by Huawei on the installation of 5G network in most African cities will be on energy? Don’t you think this will force most African countries, Sierra Leone include to accelerate installation and developing of affordable and renewable energy?