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Amy.Offord_111 Aug 15

Power transmission - MAKING THE CONNECTION

Power transmission - MAKING THE CONNECTION image

Progress is finally being made on African transmission infrastructure. Neil Ford charts the moves under way to boost capacity.

Power supply issues are often the result of inadequate transmission capacity in many African markets, rather than limited generation stock. Part of the problem is that newly completed power plants generally provide better photo opportunities for politicians, commercial investors and donors than the downstream infrastructure that is vital to power-sector success. However, after decades of underinvestment, progress is being made on both domestic grids and cross-border projects. Africa is advancing interconnections, which means that long-held ambitions for a wired continent are no longer just pipe dreams.

The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) has announced a number of substantial over the past year as it seeks to match grid capacity to generation capacity. In April this year, it announced plans to build five new transmission substations around Abuja at a cost of $170m, following what the company called a transparent competitive tender.

TCN Managing Director Usman Mohammed said the scheme was designed to solve the transmission problem in Abuja within the next 20 years. “Abuja has only two 330kV substations and we are putting in an additional two; it has fi ve 132kV sub-stations, we are adding three,” he said.

Funding is making its way into the continent, underlining the growing appetite from multilaterals for inter-connection schemes. The European Investment Bank is financing a €40m smart grid technology project in Côte d’Ivoire to support electricity exports to neighbouring states. The project, which is scheduled for completion next year, is being developed by a consortium of Machinery Engineering Corporation of China, Swiss fi rm ABB Group and GE Grid Solutions.


The Ivorian power sector has generated substantial revenue in recent years through cross-border sales to Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Togo, although exports fell 26% in 2017 to 1.225GW/h. It doesn’t stop there. The government hopes to add Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone to its export markets. Digital technology provides more accurate information on domestic usage, allowing as much power as possible to be exported beyond its borders.

As Amidou Traore, Director of power sector management agency CI-Energies, told journalists: “We are investing in digital technology because we want a smart network for the optimum management of electricity exports to neighbouring countries and because of the constant growth of local demand. There is a growing West African market for electricity. Côte d’Ivoire wants to have a major part in it.”

In April this year, US firm GE announced that it had signed a contract to upgrade three 225kV substations in Côte d’Ivoire to improve supplies in the north, the west and the centre of the country. According to Bilé Gérard Tanoé, Secretary-General of CI-Energies, the project will improve the power capacities of Ferke, Man and Taabo substations to help mitigate total energy losses and provide the reliability needed. Transmission losses in Côte d’Ivoire are currently running at about 20%.

GE also agreed to undertake grid improvements in Benin for Société Béninoise d’Energie Electrique, with the aim of reducing grid losses and making the grid more efficient, including by accurately identifying faults. It will design and build an advanced distribution management system, upgrade the national distribution control centre in Cotonou and rehabilitate substations.

A spokesperson for the project said that it was aligned with the government’s ambition to efficiently manage the generation from power plants, micro-grids and other grid infrastructure with the aim of improving the quality, efficiency and availability of power to customers. The system will also help to manage the security and maintain control of the grid. Benin currently imports 85% of the electricity it consumes.

Makhtar Diop, Vice President for Africa at the World Bank, described the creation of a robust power-trading system in West Africa as an historic opportunity for the region to significantly cut the average cost of power generation and improve access to cleaner and more reliable energy. He said the World Bank shared West Africa’s vision of a modern energy sector capable of meeting the needs of the region’s growing population and economies, and was committed to supporting its clients in realising the promise of a regional market.

About 4,000km of transmission lines are due for completion in West Africa by 2023, but regional power markets don’t just require strong infrastructure, they also need regulatory cooperation and confidence among utilities that bills will be paid. This type of relationships takes time and patience to build, as well as the support of governments.


Ethiopia’s hydro boom is driving transmission development, both within the country and between it and neighbouring states. The government announced that 500km of 200kV line will be laid this year in the centre and south of the country by Sichuan Electric Power Transmission and Transformation Construction, and Jiangsu Etern Company. The project is being partly funded by the World Bank.

The interconnectors between Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti are already operational. State-owned Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation earned $10.9m and $17.5m in power exports to the two countries respectively in the fi rst three quarters of 2018. Even more revenue is likely to be generated by the construction of the 500Kv HVDC transmission line being built to carry Ethiopian hydroelectricity to Kenya, with 433km of the project in Ethiopia and another 611km on Kenyan soil. Funding for the project, which is scheduled for completion this year, is being provided by the two governments, the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

These projects should help to offset at least a small part of the cost of developing the 6GW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which is the third-biggest power project currently under construction anywhere in the world. This project, along with other new hydro schemes, including the 254MW Genale Dawa III scheme, which is due for completion imminently, could turn Ethiopia into a power supplier for a huge swathe of East Africa, as well as provide electricity for the country’s planned industrial and manufacturing boom. Addis Ababa hopes that the first two 750MW turbines at the GERD will come on stream by late next year.


New cross-border transmission interconnectors look set to strength-en power trading within the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) over the next few years. The SAPP, which was founded in 1995, is the most successful power pool on the continent, but even here integration has been far from complete as three continental members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are still not connected.

However, the SAPP secretariat announced in April that Angola, Malawi and Tanzania would be connected by 2021. Angola’s participation will be welcome because of the number of large hydro projects it has under development, while the inclusion of Tanzania could be even more significant because the Tanzania-Zambia interconnector will allow trade in electricity between the SAPP and the East African Power Pool (EAPP). After several false starts over the past decade, work has begun on developing the Kenya-Tanzania and Zambia-Tanzania interconnectors.

Angola will be connected to Namibia, while funding for the Tanzania-Zambia and Malawi-Mozambique lines is already in place; the governments involved in the latter hope to appoint contractors before year end There are no plans to connect the four Indian Ocean SADC member states with the pool because of the cost involved; although it is possible that a subsea connector to Madagascar could be economically viable some-time in the future.

SAPP Co-ordination Centre Man-ager Steven Dihwa said: “We have so far established a co-ordination set-up between our pool and the East African pool, and we are meeting quarterly to plan what it will be like when the two pools finally start sharing electricity. No country should be isolated from trading electricity with other SAPP member states, either through bilateral or SAPP markets. We are doing the best we can to make sure all of our 12 countries get to enjoy trade and share power. In the case of Angola, just like the other two countries, a lot has been done in terms of the paperwork.”

The SAPP has enormous potential because of the number of generation technologies present in the region, including South Africa’s fleet of coal-fi red plants and the Democratic Re-public of Congo’s vast hydro potential. Coal accounts for at least 60% of the SAPP generation mix, but that figure is likely to fall as new gas-fi red capacity and large hydro schemes are developed. Trade on the SAPP, which is divided between long-term contracts and spot trades, was worth $106m in 2018, a big increase on the $76m traded in the previous year.

While huge projects have been pro-posed in the past to promote power trade across the Mediterranean Sea, it seems more likely that the trade will evolve through the development of individual interconnectors and con-tracts rather than via the imposition of a vast, overarching vision from above.


Grid improvements are not just a matter of capacity but also of innovation, as smart technology – including grid automation and advanced metering – can help make the most of trans-mission capacity. This is becoming increasingly important as intermittent generating capacity in the form of solar photovoltaic and wind power be-comes more widespread. In addition, predictive maintenance, bi-directional data transmission and wide area monitoring can help to increase reliability and reduce outages.

Lazarus Angbazo, President and CEO of GE Renewable Energy’s Grid Solutions, has identified the need to move beyond simply maintaining and repairing ageing infrastructure. “To truly advance the power sector, a holistic approach needs to be adopted; one that ensures sustainability, reliability and longevity of power supply,” he said in a statement.

GE’s Advanced Energy Management System is now used by most utilities in Southern Africa to operate their networks to strengthen grid control. In May last year, the US firm signed a contract with the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) to create a single platform for grid control centres in Gaborone and Francistown, including the design, supply, installation, testing and commissioning of a SCADA/Energy Management system. Dr Stefan Schwarzfischer, Chief Executive of BPC, said that the system would reduce downtime and improve revenue collection.

All parties will be looking to see how such technologies help strengthen the Kenyan grid as it evolves to support windfarms as more are developed, particularly in more remote areas beyond the major conurbations. The 310MW Lake Turkana windfarm, which was completed last year, required the construction of a 428km 400kV transmission line from Loiyangalani in the north to Suswa in central Kenya, allowing the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company to build up useful experience in maintaining grid stability while promoting renewable energy.

This article is an extract from the Africa Energy Yearbook 2019, a partnership between African Business and EnergyNet.