In 2017, CEGA affiliated professor Catherine Wolfram, along with professor Prabal Dhutta (UC Berkeley) and a team of engineering students, prototyped and evaluated “GridWatch,” a novel technology that crowdsources information on power grid reliability through smartphones, fixed point sensors, and existing cellular networks. Unlike existing technologies, GridWatch—funded through CEGA’s Development Impact Lab with support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)—automates and collects data on grid reliability and power outages, publicly and independently of utility reports. The technology generates detailed reliability data for sites across Accra on an ongoing basis, and is significantly more accurate than existing utility outage recording, which typically rely on manual detection and data entry.
Over 60 percent of Ghanian businesses cite electricity reliability as a major constraint according to a 2013 World Bank Enterprise Survey. Other macroeconomic research suggests that power quality can result in 2-3 percent reductions in long-run GDP growth. Though over 80 percent of Ghanians are connected to the grid, they spent a quarter of the year without electricity in 2015 (during the height of their reliability crisis). Anecdotal evidence indicates that frequent power outages and fluctuations limit the economic wellbeing of households and small businesses by discouraging investments in income-generating appliances (such as fans, refrigerators, or production machinery) and encouraging them to devote substantial resources to alternatives to reliable grid power (such as backup generators and voltage regulators).
Given these barriers, MCC was keen to address issues of grid reliability, and launched a $500 million USD investment to improve Ghana’s grid. Gridwatch was deployed to accurately and dynamically monitor grid reliability at scale. The pilot (GridWatchPhase I), demonstrated that the low-cost technology answers critical questions about the length and location of power outages, and whether new infrastructure led to improvements in electricity reliability and availability in Ghana. Now the technology is being scaled in Accra.
In 2019, MCC—together with the Millennium Development Authority (MiDA) and the Government of Ghana—funded a $6.2 million USD deployment and impact evaluations of the technology (GridWatch Phase II) across Accra, to transform Ghana’s grid-monitoring capabilities, and provide real-time insights into energy policy and operations. Beyond Ghana, the GridWatch technology and related evaluations have amassed additional funding and government interest. The research team plans to scale the technology to other countries across Africa through Phase II and has already initiated deployment as part of the Last Mile Connection Project in Kenya.
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