Helping to close Africa’s power deficit

Sandton skyline, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa.
Nicholas Newman Petroleum Review July 2017

Africa has a severe power deficit. It is astonishing that, the 48 sub-Saharan countries of Africa generate roughly the same amount of power as Spain. Negligible power generation in sub-Saharan Africa partly explains the small fraction of the population with access to electricity.  For instance, in East Africa, only 23 percent of Kenyans, 15 percent of Tanzanians and 20 percent of Ugandans have electricity according to World Bank estimates.  As for Africa’s leading economies, Nigeria and South Africa, the picture could not be more different. Nigeria with 180 million inhabitants produces less than 4,000 MW and power shortages are frequent. In contrast, South Africa generates around 40,000MW for its 50 million inhabitants reports the IEA. It is hardly surprising that Nigeria suffers regular power cuts, as demand is overwhelming supply, when it is available. Alex Marshall, Group Marketing & Compliance Manager, Clarke Energy attributes the cause to “very unreliable grids, disproportionately high costs and lack of widespread access to renewable power.” Of those not grid- connected, two thirds live in remote rural areas with low population densities, which make it uneconomic to build a local grid network.

 

Estimates as to how much it would cost to electrify sub-Saharan Africa vary with McKinsey forecasting $490billion for new generating capacity and another $345 billion for transmission and distribution or, $55 billion a year to ensure universal access to electricity by 2030, according to the Africa Progress Report 2015. Whilst such sums are huge, the cost of not investing for reliable power is incalculable for, as  Ms Malone, Energy Minister, Uganda told the Financial Times recently, “ education, health, everything – it all depends on a stable energy supply.”

 

Despite the central role of power, public investment in the power sector is just $8 billion a year or 0.5 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s combined GDP. Although management consultants PWC expect expenditure in sub-Sahara’s power sector to rise at around 10 percent a year, this will be too little to meet the target of universal access to electricity by 2030. However, a do-it-yourself guarantee of power is provided by portable, scalable generators or gensets, which produce electricity from oil, petrol, diesel, biofuels, and gas.  According to Marshall, gensets are an ideal solution, “when there are relatively high electricity costs, poor distribution and transmission networks.” Gensets ranging from 5 MW to 160MW can be aggregated or scaled up to provide temporary power plants for emergency power, a reliable back-up or a cost-effective primary power source. In essence, gensets are a quick- fix temporary solution for utilities needing to supplement the grid, meet seasonal peak demand, and provide temporary power during scheduled maintenance or outages, or power for remote areas unconnected to the grid. Gensets can be combined in different ways to provide tailored voltage and power according to requirements and are commonly used by the oil and gas industry, food and beverages, mining operations, shopping centres, businesses and households throughout Africa.

Read more EW+July+2017+– p22-23 (1)

 

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