Focusing on the need to increase investments in transmission lines in Africa, the op-ed gives examples of how regional power pools and countries can effectively better distribute power to where it is needed most. Beyond the economic benefits to power utilities and governments, transmission lines enable the sharing of abundant resources of renewable energy from production sites with regions that had previously relied on diesel power.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, energy poverty and reliance on fossil fuels are the sad paradox of a continent endowed with immense renewable energy potential.
Two energy markets broadly constitute the sector in Africa – countries able to export and countries focused on meeting domestic consumption needs. To organise the distribution of power, five regional power pools in Africa serve, at varying degrees of effectiveness, to balance electrical load and promote trading between areas generating an excess of power and those with a seasonal or chronic deficit.
In 2018, African Energy Ministers initiated a Continental Power Systems Masterplan which will serve as a blueprint for generation and transmission infrastructure as part of a future African Single Electricity Market. Regions where trading within a power pool is limited by the lack of excess generation, which is the case in the Southern Africa Power Pool, could be linked to the energy-rich East Africa Power Pool, through Zambia and Tanzania.
A sufficient network of transmission lines is needed to carry the power to where it is needed, but Africa currently has only 26,000 Km of high voltage transmission lines compared to 430,000 Km in India, for a similar size population.
The deficit in transmission lines is crippling efforts to share African energy resources and is one of the reasons why almost 600 million Africans still live in the dark. Socio-economic hardship and lack of opportunity experienced by the populations living in areas with an energy deficit is persistent and hinders economic development. The systematic reliance on diesel-generated power to fill the energy gaps and the associated greenhouse gas emissions are a further cause for concern. The need for transmission lines is ever more critical as the continent faces an acceleration of urbanization and new needs in the digital age.
Some African countries are leading the way forward. The Government of Angola is set to reap the benefits of investing in transmission lines to harmonise access to the country’s national resources. The north has an excess of renewable hydropower, whereas the south relies on expensive diesel generators, supported by government subsidies.
AfDB financing will largely contribute to the construction of a 343-km long transmission line that will connect the north and south grids and allow for the transfer of approximately 1,000 MW of primarily low-cost hydropower from the northern Kwanza River basin to the population centers in the South. Once operational in 2023, the south of Angola will avoid consumption of 46 billion litres of diesel per year, and the 125Mtonnes of CO2 emissions incurred. The government of Angola will be largely relieved of its current diesel generation subsidies, currently in excess of $130M per year, and will make significant advances towards its commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 35% by 2030, as part of its National Climate Change Strategy.
The Angolan example is one of many projects financed by the AfDB as part of its New Deal on Energy for Africa to support an accelerated roll-out of transmission infrastructure. Since 2016, over $580 million has been committed to regional interconnection projects (Nigeria-Niger-Burkina Faso-Benin; Guinea-Mali; Cameroon-Chad), including financing of 6,700 km of transmission lines.
By: Angela Nalikka, Manager, National and Regional Power Systems, at the Power, Energy, Climate and Green Growth complex of the African Development Bank