Regional Co-operation could unleash West Africa's Power Potential

Regional Co-operation could unleash West Africa's Power Potential image

There are vast energy resources in West Africa: plentiful natural gas, hydropower and huge solar resources. But maximising power generation in the region has been hampered by a lack of cooperation between the region’s countries.

Progress in electrification is gradually being made. Some 52% of West Africans have access to electricity, the World Bank reported in 2018. But it remains expensive, averaging $0.25/kWh, around twice the global average.

The World Bank says the region could solve part of its power supply problems through increased integration. It calculates that $5bn to $8bn a year would be saved by making greater use of cross-border trade in electricity.

Some steps have already been taken. The World Bank’s International Development Association has invested $750m in developing the West African Power Pool and about 7% of the region’s electricity is now traded between countries.

Nigeria has the region’s largest economy by some distance, but ascertaining exactly how much installed and functioning generating capacity it has is not straightforward. Some of the country’s gas-fi red capacity has erratic supply and is not counted in some surveys, while parts of the grid are unable to handle all installed capacity.

The official total figure is 12,522MW, including 10,142MW thermal and 2,380MW hydro, but usable capacity is usually much less, sometimes as low as 4GW. The difference between urban and rural electrification rates in Nigeria is less marked than most other parts of sub-Saharan Africa without universal access to electricity: 55% of urban Nigerians have homes connected to the grid, while the figure for rural areas is 36%.

The debate continues over the wisdom of unbundling the Nation-al Electric Power Authority (NEPA) in a process started in 2005 and the subsequent privatisation of many of its successor companies continues. When NEPA dominated power generation, transmission and distribution, Nigerians routinely experienced power shortages. There was too little generating capacity, planned new plants were delayed, cancelled or regularly had insufficient gas feedstock because of low regulated prices and militant attacks on pipelines.

At the same time, the grid had a limited geographical reach and suffered even more from underinvestment than the generation sector. Those Nigerians with the money to do so bought their own generators to provide electricity to their homes and businesses, although diesel-fi red generators are usually expensive to run and require unpredictable levels of maintenance.

Nigerians dubbed NEPA ‘Never Expect Power Again’ and many hoped that the situation would improve after the parastatal first became the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and was subsequently unbundled into 18 successor companies: six in generation, one in transmission and 11 in distribution.

Successive federal governments hoped that the presence of six former PHCN subsidiaries and various independent power producers (IPPs) would foster a competitive market that would see prices driven down and more investment in capacity.

There are four thermal generation companies: Afam Power, Egbin Power, Sapele Power and Ughelli Power, and two hydro generators: Kainji/Jebba Hydro Electric and Shiroro Hydro Electric. Following approach-es by the government, oil companies in the country using their own gas production set up some IPPs, including Shell’s Afam VI plant and Agip’s Okpai.

The unitary Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) acts as the glue that keeps the whole sector together, although the purchase and resale of electricity is the responsibility of state-owned Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading. It is the latter that signs power purchase agreements with generation and distribution companies.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission acts as the independent sector regulator and is tasked with enabling competition, licensing operators and monitoring market operation.

Despite these efforts to restructure the sector and some periodic improvements, the same old problems plague the industry. A fitful gas supply is perhaps the biggest problem. For example, last June a ruptured gas pipeline caused a big fall in supplies and caused six power plants to be shut down.

 

CÔTE D’IVOIRE AND GHANA PROGRESS

Côte d’Ivoire currently has generating capacity of 2.17GW, divided roughly 60:40 between thermal and hydro projects, but the government hopes that this will top 4GW by the end of 2020, as new projects are developed.

A key recent project is the 275MW Soubre hydro scheme, which was financed with a $500m concessional loan from China’s Exim Bank and built by Sinohydro, which was completed last March on the Sassandra River. The government has announced that most new capacity from now on will be provided by IPPs.

Power consumption is growing strongly as Côte d’Ivoire recovers from years of civil war and political uncertainty. Estimates of the country’s electrification rate vary widely, from about 62% up to 90%, but this could reflect the difference between the proportion of homes that have nearby distribution lines and those that have actually been connected, as connection costs for consumers are considered high.

In addition, the US Power Africa initiative argues that despite the government introducing its Electricity for All programme, the scope of off -grid policies and incentives are too limited.

At 83%, Ghana has a similarly high electrification rate, although the rural figure is much lower at 50%. The country has installed generating capacity of 4.39GW, including 2.79GW of thermal and 1.58GW of hydro, but the effective capacity is often less because of low water levels at the nation’s dam and difficulties in supplying gas.

The latter should be overcome as associated off shore gas reserves come on stream. In the meantime, alternative sources of gas have been secured. The 400MW Bridge Power combined-cycle plant in the port city of Tema is the first liquefied petroleum gas-fi red plant to be developed in Africa and the biggest in the world, al-though it could be converted to run on natural gas at a later date.

 

This article is an extract from the Africa Energy Yearbook 2019, a partnership between African Business and EnergyNet.