GIS and algorithm-based grid planning

Grid planning à la Power-Blox - A recipe for efficiency


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Published on: Sep 10, 2020

Grid planning in minutes

It begins with a satellite photo of a remote village in the middle of the Laotian rainforest that is to be electrified. The next passable road is dozens of kilometres away. The only way into the village is via the nearby Nam Theun River. In our office in Switzerland, which is more than 9000 km away, we call up the coordinates of the village via a map service and load the photo into our grid planning tool. A few clicks and a few minutes later we start the algorithm, which takes over from now on and which delivers the cheapest grid after a few minutes.

The planning and installation of a power grid are significant cost factors in mini-grid projects. The costs for planning, installation and materials add up to around 15% to 25% of the capital costs*. Up to now, grid planning and thus the level of costs has been based primarily on the skills and experience of the planner. In order to support and relieve the time-consuming grid planning process, it is obvious to optimise not only the generation capacity but also the grid design so that as few cables as possible lead to a reliable and secure supply of connected households and commercial customers. 

As part of his Master's thesis at ETH Zurich, our working student François is investigating this topic. The interim result is a tool that uses various algorithms to calculate the most cost-effective grid within a few minutes on a standard laptop. For this purpose, the houses to be connected are selected via satellite photo by mouse click. The algorithm then calculates the most cost-effective grid and generates a true-to-scale plan that can be forwarded to the installation team.

Automated grid planning is only the beginning

Further expansion steps are planned. In the future, the tool will use artificial intelligence to independently detect obstacles and households and estimate the expected electricity demand based on various parameters, such as the size of the building and its location within the village. It will be possible to make initial planning decisions on the generation capacity to be installed, the total costs and the tariff models within a few minutes to hours.

Questions about the project

If you have any questions about the grid-planning tool, we would be pleased if you contact us. 

*African Mini Grid Developers Association: Africa Minigrid Benchmarking report

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