Africa’s Power Distribution Projects Need Less Talk And More Action

Poor project planning is standing in the way of Africa’s energy development.
Published: Fri 29 May 2015

Hindpal Jabbal, former chairman of the Kenya Energy Regulatory Commission, who spoke at African Utility Week, in an interview with Engerati explained that African countries tend to plan too much without very much execution. Unrealistic and too optimistic scenarios often lead to a failure in completion. Energy development plans should also be based on realistic load assumptions. It is therefore important that realistic and achievable targets are set. He suggests short term planning- the project planning process should not exceed five to seven years. Projects should be executed properly before moving onto the planning of the next project.

Jabbal also touched on the importance of varying demand and how to plan for this. Using energy sources and energy storage at appropriate times of the day, as well as power sharing between countries, will help build a more reliable power supply. By using various different energy sources from various countries, a more reliable energy mix will be created for all those involved. However, the lack of planning and trust gets in the way of efficient planning and execution.

Jabbal also points out that in Kenya, 45% live below the poverty line and as a result, many cannot afford electricity or even electrical appliances. It is critical that income levels are increased so that more electricity will be consumed. “Large power producing projects cannot be considered if there is no demand for it. Countries need to resolve the fundamental problems first before any real changes can occur.”

Export vs home development

Improving project planning is also viewed as critical by Imraan Mohamed, Itron, Marketing Director, who spoke at the event. He points to the International Energy Agency, which reveals that energy sector investments from 2000 to 2014 in sub-Saharan Africa totalled US$55 billion per annum. Two-thirds of this is ploughed into energy exports. While this revenue is attractive for governments, Mohamed suggests that the ratio is a “bit off”.

“Roleplayers in Africa need to work more closely in order to to close the export vs home development gap,” says Mohamed. “There is a need to manage the continent’s priorities better. Too much emphasis is being placed on the generation side instead of the value chain down the line. Roleplayers need to break the project planning of three to five years into more manageable chunks.”

There also needs to be a fundamental shift in mindset. “Utilities have to change how they approach new challenges since dynamics are changing.There needs to be a collaboration between vendors, customers, government and utilities. It is time for everyone to deliver on their ambitions to make the economic development climate easier.”