Sierra Leone’s US$3.5bn T&D Plans Take Shape

Sierra Leone is expanding its network to accommodate planned power generation increase and improve access.
Published: Thu 23 Jul 2015

Sierra Leone aims to increase its power generation capacity tenfold by 2017 and in order to support this, the Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Energy and the US National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) have put together a transmission and distribution investment plan valued at US$3.5 billion.

In October, Sierra Leone unveiled a roadmap to increase the country’s power generation capacity from the current level of about 100MW to 1,000MW by 2017.  In a live interview at African Energy Forum with Ambassador Henry O Macauley, Minister of Energy, the roadmap is discussed in detail.

 

The plan will be used by the government to expand reliable electricity services to its capital Freetown and surrounding areas. Funded by the World Bank, this project will ultimately support a larger expansion plan that will serve the capital and the entire country.

NRECA is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states. This reinforces Engerati’s view that Africa is on the tipping point. Businesses that want to get into the market should be on the ground or partnering with locals. [The African power landscape – A continent on the tipping point?]

While the energy situation in the nation of 5.6-million people has improved in recent years, the generation capacity of 70MW remains amongst the lowest per capita in Africa. Freetown, especially in the west of the city, enjoys improved electricity after the completion in 2009 of the first phase of the Bumbuna hydroelectricity dam, which took three decades to build.

But power supply has deteriorated in recent months, causing frequent outages, and the dam is running well below capacity due to technical problems since its launch.

Expanding electrical access

Currently, less than 10% of the national population has access to electricity, according to Dan Waddle, senior vice president for NRECA International.

This sparse electricity coverage and unreliable service exacerbates poverty conditions among Sierra Leonean citizens, and frustrates productivity and competitiveness of firms.

Mr Waddle says, “Like many of its neighbours, the people of Sierra Leone will benefit greatly from having a reliable source of electricity to help them advance socially and economically. We look forward to helping the government with a clear path toward expanding access to electricity in the rural communities.”

No thanks to the decade-long civil war (which ended in 2001) and the recent Ebola outbreak, Sierra Leone has been unable to prioritise the development of its necessary transmission-distribution infrastructure for growth in industry, commerce and agriculture.

To resolve this, NRECA International’s project team, based in Freetown, will evaluate power generation and distribution systems serving the capital, complemented by a more extensive country-wide analysis which will evaluate power expansion options. The outcome of this nine-month effort will serve as a guide for the government to undertake future grid development activities for the next 15 years.

Transforming Sierra Leone’s power sector

Sierra Leone’s energy sector started its “unbundling” process earlier in 2014, during which its national power company, the National Power Authority (NPA), was divided into two entities: the Electricity Generation and Transmission Company (EGTC) and the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA).

“NPA no longer exists and the two companies are fully functional,” Minister of Energy, Henry Macauley, declared as he presented the document to President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House.

“A third, independent body to serve as a regulatory entity, will also be operational and seeks to create fair play in the sector,” Macauley added.

According to President Koroma, the unbundling of Sierra Leone’s power sector provides a clearer roadmap for the improvement of the sector. President Koroma stated that he hopes more private investors will be involved in the work to revitalize the country’s power sector.

Overcoming energy project roadblocks

According to Niyi Robbin-Coker, Sierra Leone’s ex Minister of Energy, early stage private funding can be problematic. He told Engerati in an exclusive interview that the number one challenge is putting together the visibility studies that allow early stage funding of the project. He points out that there is insufficient funding for the early stage of projects. While development finance institutions provide some funding on the pre–visibility side, it is not always enough to get the project off the ground. He says, “Focus from pre-visibility to bankable visibility remains a tricky area. Private money is not quite ready to get involved with that area and governments are focusing on other priorities.” [Africa’s Power Projects Need Private Funding.]

Another critical area of development for Western Africa is power sharing via interconnecting lines. Interconnection is the only way West Africa is going to be able to move forward with regards to energy development but the private sector is reluctant to get involved with early stage projects as they see too much risk, according to Mr Robbin-Coker. He says that often, administrative and bureaucratic risks are real in projects and these things often move too slowly and have the potential of destroying an entire project.

While interconnection via critical infrastructure is ideal in the long run, individual countries such as Sierra Leone should take the opportunity to develop their own locally-produced power to maintain a certain level of independence as this will provide energy security for many African countries. These areas should be looking at developing biomass from their agricultural sector for instance. Mini-grids will also help to build energy security and reduce the need for expensive transmission and distribution infrastructure.