500kV Line Enhances East Africa’s Power Trade

Projects like the Ethiopia-Kenya transmission line will help East Africa to harness its economic growth potential.
Published: Wed 22 Jul 2015

The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company Ltd (KETRACO) has signed contracts for the development of the Ethiopia-Kenya transmission line. The project will form part of a plan to create a regional power market and enhance the East African Power Pool (EAPP). [Engerati-Ethiopia: Kenya Interconnector: Cross Border Electricity Trading.]

The bipolar 500kV HVDC line, with converter stations in Wolayta-Sodo (Ethiopia) and Suswa (Kenya), has a power transfer capacity of up to 2,000MW. The cross border power line’s total length is 1,045km, of which 433km will be in Ethiopia and the remaining 612km in Kenya.

The 612km transmission line in Kenya has been broken into Lots 4, 5 and 6 whose tenders were respectively awarded to KEC International Ltd-India, Larsen and Toubro Limited Power Transmission and Distribution and Kalpataru Power Transmission Ltd, India.

Lot 4 runs from Log Logo (in Kenya) to the Ethiopian border. Lot 5 runs from Kinamba to Log Logo with Lot 6 running from Suswa all the way to Kinamba.

The line, connecting the power systems in Kenya and Ethiopia, is being developed to promote power trade between the two countries which will increase security and affordability of power supplies, promote sustainability, increase renewable power generation, and reduce thermal power emissions.

The cross-border power line falls under the Eastern Electricity Highway Project which aims to transport Ethiopian power to Kenya and beyond where demand is predicted to grow significantly in under a decade. The East Africa Interconnector Challenge was discussed at length by Dr John M Mativo, Head of Technical Services, KETRACO, Kenya, at Powering East Africa.

Improving security of power supplies

The electricity, originating from Ethiopia’s existing and future power plants, will help improve Kenya’s pressured power supply which is unable to keep up with a growing demand. Kenya has suffered from severe power shortages in recent times. In a country tipped by the World Bank to reach middle income status in the near future, only 25% of the population has access to electricity. In rural areas, only 5% of the population enjoys grid power.

The growing demand comes from the expected expansion of Kenya’s oil and gas industry following. The flurry of recent discoveries is placing even greater pressure on the electricity system.

The Kenyan government’s Vision 2030 strategy for economic development has set some ambitious targets to relieve grid pressure. It plans to more than double power generation over the next six years, from the current installed capacity of 1,533MW to 3,750MW in 2018. Their projection for the total new capacity to be added by 2030 is 18,920MW, of which 2,000MW would come from power imports including that from Ethiopia.

In stark contrast, Ethiopia is aiming to become a major regional power exporter. The state-owned Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPC), the country’s sole electricity provider, aims to increase its generation capacity to 37,000MW. It intends to do so primarily through a series of large hydroelectric plants commissioned over the past three years.

Through this project, Ethiopia will be able to sell its surplus electricity to Kenya. Once completed in mid 2018, this line will facilitate the transfer of 400MW from Ethiopia to Kenya. The Kenya Power and Lighting Corporation (KPLC) and EEPC have already signed a power purchase agreement and the 400MW is part of the 5,000+MW initiative. According to the African Development Bank, the transmission line will see an additional 870,000 households receive power by 2018. By 2022, this figure will grow to 1.4 million households. The commercial sector is also set to benefit by an additional 3,100GWh of power by 2018 and by 2022, this figure will increase to about 5,100GWh.

The project will be financed by the African Development Bank, French Development Agency (AFD) and the Government of Kenya with LOT 4 costing US$34,227,179.00, LOT 5 costing US$34,630,001.20 and LOT 6 costing €27,673,590.00 (US$30176666.22).

New discoveries, new economic growth

The exploration of oil and gas has seen a major increase in recent years. Hydrocarbon discoveries in Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are transforming the region.

This interconnection of power will create a "power pool" so that these countries can draw on Ethiopia's abundant hydropower resources. The clean power from Ethiopia will replace fossil-fuel generated power as many of these countries rely on costly diesel-fuelled emergency generators for thermal power during outages.

With the   Eastern Electricity Highway Project, East African countries can trade the power from these natural resources, creating strong economic growth in the region. We wrote recently about the need for a deeper regional cooperation in our article Supporting Growth With Africa’s T&D Infrastructure.

Sarwat Hussain of the World Bank sums up the importance of regional power sharing: “The big picture is that Ethiopia has 45,000MW of hydroelectricity potential, of which only 4% has been tapped. Then next door you have fast growing Kenya which is energy strapped. If you are looking for economic security for East Africa, you can’t do it without Ethiopia’s resources. Regional power sharing is essential given only one in three Africans have access to electricity.”