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Amy.Offord_111 Aug 15



Gas to the fore in West African power drive.

New capacity is being installed and electrification rates are rising in West Africa, as governments attract a wide range of foreign investors. Gas is becoming the dominant thermal power feedstock, not just in Nigeria but also across the entire region. Meanwhile, Central Africa continues to focus on its vast hydro potential but, as has often been the case, it re-mains easier to develop more modest projects rather than the jumbo schemes mooted for the main course of the Congo.


Given the size of its economy and population, Senegal has a relatively modest generating capacity of 864MW; thermal is the dominant strand in the generation mix with 733MW, but the government is keen to see additional capacity developed as soon as possible if it is to achieve its goal of achieving universal electrification by 2025. The current electrification rate is 64% nationwide, but just 43.5% in rural areas.

That goal will receive a boost from the development of Senegal’s offshore gas reserves in the north of the country, which are being developed jointly with those of southern Mauritania as part of the Greater Tortue project involving a BP-led consortium. The first gas is due to be produced in 2022, but most of that will be exported as liquefied natural gas and some within Senegal argue that the government needs to increase its ef-forts into ensuring that more of the reserves are ring-fenced for domestic power use.

Lebanese firm Matelec’s planned 120MW combined-cycle Melec power plant, expected to be built 85km south of Dakar, would be one target for domestically produced gas. Initially designed to operate on heavy oil, it could be converted to run on gas when it becomes available. Finnish firm Wärtsilä is to provide its Flexi-cycle technology with a 10-year maintenance contract to the independent power producer.


In April, Finnish firm Wärtsilä signed a contract to develop a liquefied (LNG)-fuelled power plant in Nigeria. LNG is normally re-gasified in the buyer’s home market to provide gas feedstock, but it can now also be used directly in power stations.

The Bua Group has commissioned Wärtsilä to develop a 48MW off-grid plant to provide power to its new cement production line in Sokoto, which will result in a much lower environmental impact than the existing heavy fuel oil generation being used at the site. The plant is expected to become operational by the middle of next year. Moroccan energy utility Neo Themis said in April that it had signed a contract to develop the 550MW combined-cycle, gas-fired Kingline power plant at Ondo State Industrial Park, which lies 200km northeast of Lagos, at a cost of $600m.

Neo Themis Chief Executive Tas Anvaripour said Kingline offered competitive pricing and benefited from the availability of peripheral gas and transmission infrastructure, a short timing to operation and technical flexibility. Financial closure is expected next year, with the first power coming online in 2022. Funding is expected to be provided by a consortium of multilateral and private-sector institutions led by Denham Capital.


Continuing the trend of hydro development, Électricité de France (EDF) signed a deal in November 2018 with the government of Cameroon to build and operate the 420MW Nachtigal hydro scheme on the Sanaga River.

Marianne Laigneau, Group Senior Executive Vice President of the inter-national division at EDF, said: “It’s the first of its kind for EDF to have all these industrial roles together: to design, negotiate, pilot the project, building, operating and maintenance... We are completely convinced there is a large hydro potential in Africa. We are looking for opportunities with partners.”


While most African counties are making substantial progress on electrification, connection rates in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) remain very low. Just 9% of the population lives in homes connected to the national grid, ranging from 19% in urban areas to 1% in rural districts.

There are many reasons for this, ranging from a lack of investment, national cohesion and poor security.  In common with many other forms of infrastructure, such as the road network, the national grid does not extend into many parts of the country. DRC has installed generating capacity of 2.67GW, of which only 135MW is thermal and the remainder hydro.

Despite the current poor situation, the country has vast hydro potential. Technical and economic feasibility studies have already identified at least 100GW of untapped hydro potential in the Congo basin. Two hydro schemes have long operated at Inga Falls in the far west of the country. Inga I, which was completed in 1972, has a generating capacity of 351MW, while Inga II was completed a decade later with 1.42GW, but they only tap relatively minor parts of the Congo’s flow at that point.

Various incarnations of the pro-posed Inga III site have been promoted over the past 20 years, ranging from 4GW up to 11GW, but would require massive investment in transmission infrastructure to make them viable. Meanwhile, the Grand Inga proposal, which would involve building a dam across one of the main flows of the Congo, would provide generating capacity in the order of 40GW, making it by far the biggest generation project of any kind in the world.  China’s 22.5GW Three Gorges Dam is the current holder of that title.

The most obvious market for  either proposed project would be  South Africa and several attempts have been made to finance Inga III or Grand Inga and a massive transmission network serving South Africa. The financial risk would be enormous and there is also a security risk. However, either project could provide huge amounts of low-car-bon electricity and generate export revenue for DRC, while a steadily increasing proportion of the power produced could be used to electrify the host country.

Two Chinese firms – Sinohydro and Three Gorges – plus ACS of Spain, are keen to develop Inga III and have been keen to emphasise that DRC itself will not be required to finance any part of the project, nor take on any debt. Their vision for Inga III would have an 11GW generating capacity and cost $14bn, with an additional $4bn investment in transmission lines.

South Africa has already committed to taking 2.5GW and South African Energy Minister Jeff Radebe has suggested doubling that figure. Given the 11GW capacity, it seems likely that the investors would require South Africa to take at least 5GW as they seek to sign up other offtakers.

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