Ending Blackouts Nationwide
By Ibrahim Alhassan Sesay
Freetown, with an estimated population of about 802,639 was once pigeon-holed as the world’s darkest city. Today this is no longer the case given the priority that the former administration gave to the sector. Poor electricity supply was impending socio-economic growth.
But how prepared are we for the pending dry seasons? During previous dry seasons there have been problems with regular and continuous supply of electricity in the city. This is primarily because of the heavy reliance on the hydroelectricity power from the Bumbuna dam, which depends on rainfall.
Bumbuna, the biggest hydro power plant and situated in Bumbuna, Tonkolili District, commissioned in 2009, has the potential to provide up to 50 megawatts in the rainy season. However, during the dry seasons, it gets as low as 8 megawatts, leading to frequent power blackouts in the months from February to April. Freetown alone needs up to 60 to 70 megawatts. Complimenting thermal engines at Blackhall Road and Kingtom are dependent on fuel supply. Faulty machines and the unavailability of adequate resource often results in the failure to provide adequate energy supply.
President Julius Maada Bio has expressed his desire to increase access of electricity in Freetown and to other part of the country. In his first hundred days, he has strengthened the agreements made by the previous administration to continue the distribution of uninterrupted electricity across the city. This he believes is central to the success of his New Direction’s National Development Plan.
One agreement renegotiated and renewed is the one with Karadeniz Powership DoĞan Bey (Karpowership) which had been signed by the previous government and ratified by parliament. “This ship can produce up to 100 megawatt electricity, but because of the network challenges, in the transmission and distribution between Kingtom and the East, it is not fully possible to utilize the full potential of the ship” says Alhaji Kanja Sesay, Minister of Energy, during a talk with this writer. Even if the 60 or 70 megawatts needed for the Western Area is taken from the ship, the weak network from Kingtom to the East prevents it from adequately supplying the power, according to Minister Sesay.
To ensure the level of power supply does not fall this dry season, government went through the same source and negotiated for a second ship, that has arrived in the country and “dedicated solely to the east, the accessories and cables to connect the second ship already here”, disclosed the Minister. This will provide uninterrupted power supply in the eastern part of the capital and supply the industries located in that part of town.
The current tariff with Karpowership is 16.4 cent but this will be negotiated downward. The tariff for the second ship will be 15.4 cent. The 1 percent drop in the cost of the second ship will give Government a savings of US$ 9 million per year, with a total of 18 million dollars over the period of two years, according to the energy minister.
The lack of electricity affected every household not just in Freetown, but across the country. But with the advent to the power ship over a year ago, private houses, offices, businesses including small kiosks, bars and restaurants now have relatively good and regular electricity supply. Mrs. Hawanatu Tiffa, a nurse at the Princess Christianity Maternity Hospital (PCMH) believes that “The work of health centers across the country has improved because of the availability of electricity in hospital wards. This ensures that medical machines can be used and administrative tasks can be easily performed.”
The re-negotiation of the Karpowership agreement, the implementation of good governance structures and tariff methodology, the expansion of customer base from 170,000 to 185,000, the management of Bankasoka mini hydropower in Port Loko and training of engineers (EGTC) and the umbrella national energy program of the Ministry to provide universal, affordable and sustainable electricity to the people are all geared towards meeting the energy needs of the country.
There is still a need for a robust reform of the energy sector. We should work towards the restoration of electricity in the district capital towns and invest in low cost mini grid systems like solar and hydro across the country. There is a need to attract private investments, provide economic incentives and make microfinance available for solar businesses.
There is also a need for clear regulations of private sector participation in electricity generation, for mini-grid licensing and concessions, standardized Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and for less bureaucratic process of receiving tax and duty waivers for private companies importing certified solar products. Transmission and distribution infrastructure needs to be improved. Most parts of the country have no access to any grid, many distribution lines were destroyed during the civil war and old equipment needs to be replaced.
Energy efficiency is poor. The existing network is very old and there are immense power losses in the generation, transmission and distribution. It is estimated that there is a 40% transmission losses. There is also a lack of data collection in the energy sector and absence of detailed research.