North Africa spotlight: Egypt is blazing a trail with the completion of three massive gas-fired power stations, while Morocco focuses on innovative renewables projects.
North Africa is experiencing a boom in the construction of new generating capacity, but investment is focused almost entirely in just two countries. With crisis-hit Libya out of the game for the time being and Algeria steadfast in its commitment to state energy companies, Morocco and Egypt are attracting foreign interest like never before.
Egypt has played host to the biggest power programme completed in Africa in the past year. In July 2018, Siemens finished the construction of three combined-cycle gas-fired plants for the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, Beni Suef, New Caital and Burullus, which collectively added 14.4GW in generating capacity. That is more than double the capacity of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam hydro scheme in Ethiopia. It is hoped that the Egyptian plants will save $1bn in fuel costs by replacing ageing thermal capacity.
The German firm also developed six sub-stations so the grid can cope with the additional capacity. The project, which was undertaken with Egyptian partners Orascom Construction and Elsewedy Electric, was completed in under 28 months, including construction and grid connection. Siemens Chief Executive Joe Kaeser said the project’s rapid completion served as “a blueprint for building up power infrastructure in the Middle East and all over the world”.
MOROCCAN WIND POWER
Recent progress means that Rabat is hopeful of securing 2GW of wind power generating capacity by the end of next year.
ACWA Power brought its 120MW Khalladi wind power project near Tangier on stream in July 2018. Equity shareholders ACWA (75%) and Argan Infrastructure Fund (ARIF) (25%), plus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Clean Technology Fund and Morocco’s BMCE Bank of Africa financed the $170m scheme. ARIF was founded by a consortium that includes the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation. ACWA has developed seven renewable energy projects in Morocco, with a combined generating capacity of 800MW, says Mohammad Abunayyan, Chairman of the Saudi-based company.
The EBRD said that it was a landmark project because it did not rely on government support and had been developed in a competitive environment. Abunayyan said he hoped ACWA’s achievements in Morocco would act as “a platform for the development of other energy projects in the continent as the company grows its operations into West Africa”.
Morocco is a world leader in developing concentrated solar power (CSP), with two big integrated CSP-photovoltaic (PV) projects under development as public-private partnerships in the Atlas Mountains: the 580MW Noor Ouarzazate and 800MW Noor Midelt projects. PV production is used during the daytime, while the CSP elements of the two schemes allow energy to be stored for use during the evening and night. CSP uptake has lagged behind PV worldwide.
While more expensive to build, it is viewed as useful because of its storage ability. The Moroccan government also wants to build a $4.5bn liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal at Jorf Lasfar on the Atlantic coast. It is hoped that the plant will have a regasification capacity of 7bn cubic metres per year and that it can be completed by 2025. As ever, Rabat is trying to attract more investment in domestic oil and gas exploration but cannot de-pend on commercial funds.
Egypt was in the vanguard of moves in the region to develop wind power resources, but early projects were do-nor-led, while political and economic upheaval saw Cairo fail to build on its early lead as investment became scarce. A new wave of wind developments is now under way, with donors and development-focused international financial institutions again backing many projects – but with other investors also involved this time around. For example, Lekela Power is developing a 250MW wind farm at Gabal El Zeit – where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Suez – with funding from Germany’s KfW and the European Investment Bank.
In March, the governments of Moroccan and Spain, along with Spanish grid operator Red Eléctrica de España (REE) and Morocco’s L’Office National de l’Électricité et de l’Eau Potable, signed an agreement to develop a third subsea interconnector under the Western Mediterranean by 2026. The line will have a 700MW capacity, adding to the 1.4GW capacity of the first two lines, and will mainly be used to export power from Moroccan solar power schemes to Europe.
REE said that Rabat had an ambitious solar energy development plan “which consequently will reduce the marginal price of electricity in the Spanish market”. This is particularly interesting given that the direction of flow is mainly in the opposite direction, with Spain supplying about 15% of Morocco’s total electricity needs.
Rabat has backed feasibility studies into the construction of other new interconnections with Europe, including a new line with Portugal. West Africa through Mauritania – talks between Morocco and Mauritania are reported to be ongoing. Similarly, as we report on page XX (Transmission section), the governments of Italy and Tunisia have finally agreed to develop the 600MW Elmed interconnector between the Tunisian coast and Sicily. It will initially be used to export power from solar photovoltaic projects in the south of Italy to Tunisia, but could eventually be used to export North African electricity to Europe.
The large-scale export of North African electricity to Southern Europe – mainly from solar power projects –has long been mooted, but rising local consumption means that this may be difficult to achieve in the foreseeable future. However, the improving economics of solar power production suggest that this trade could take off in the long term.
This article is an extract from the Africa Energy Yearbook 2019, a partnership between African Business and EnergyNet.