Affordable electricity

Africa is being left in the dark whilst the rest of the world enjoys reliable electricity

By | Affordable electricity, Developing Countries, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa | No Comments

Across the world over 1.1 billion people are still without any form of electricity whatsoever. That means that children are being taught in dark unlit schools; citizens are walking the streets after light, raising questions of safety; and, businesses have to close early throughout the winter period as daylight runs out far too quickly.

How is it that as we progress into 2019, over 1.1 billion people in the world still have no access to electricity? That cannot be right.

And of that 1.1 billion, almost 95% of people live in Sub-Saharan Africa and the developing countries in Asia.

That being said, the electrification rate in Africa has increased since 2011, now standing at 43%, but it has struggled to keep up with the population increases found across the continent.

At the turn of the millennium Africa had over 817 million people living across the continent, but fast-forward to 2018 over 1.3 billion people now reside there. However, during the same time, only 200 million Africans were connected to the grid for the first time.

It is clear that there are significant electricity generation advances across Africa but population growth is seriously outstripping electricity generation by a very wide-margin.

There is not just a poor electricity generation rate across Africa, but there is also a disparity between African countries that are very close to universal access to power and those that are so far behind that they won’t achieve that milestone for many decades to come.

Gabon, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are all past the 90% electrification rate, whereas 15 African countries are below the 25% mark. A quarter of all those without power come from Nigeria, Angola, Sudan and Ethiopia- some of the most populous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Naturally, there are difficulties in African nations securing significant sums of money by domestic and international companies to build new and improved power plants, albeit with fossil fuels or renewable energy.

But they should not be left behind!

Every citizen of the world deserves access to electricity and the time to act is now. The only way for countries to secure quick, reliable and uninterruptible power is for governments to prioritise investment in power generation using the cheapest and most widely available technologies – whether that is hydro, gas, coal or renewables.

African Leaders: World Bank should allow developing countries to use fossil fuels

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The president of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim has been contacted by various African leaders urging him to relax the international bank’s rules on financing fossil fuel power plants in developing countries.

African leaders are annoyed at the ignorance of western countries whom have dictated to developing countries around the world, but especially in Africa, that they are not entitled to any fossil fuel baseload power.

These leaders feel that they are entitled to the same rights and privileges that western countries are entitled to, and they make the argument that they are not responsible for most of the carbon already polluted in the air, so why should they be held back it securing electricity for the 600 million Africans without any form of power.

Collectively, African leaders sent a message to Mr Kim ahead of his recent visit to Indonesia. They said, “You’re outraged by climate change, we have almost no responsibility for putting the carbon in the air and yet you’re telling us we can’t develop and have baseload energy because we can’t use a single drop of fossil fuel for our own energy needs.”

In response, Mr Kim said, “We feel that you have to listen to the social justice arguments from people from poor countries who have not put any of the carbon in the air and want to have baseload.”

Current technology today can significantly reduce the amount of carbon emitted into the air, so the argument the World Bank is making is a non-starter in the eyes of many organisations and institutions around the world.

It will be interesting to see if the World Bank will change their patriarchal edict preventing finance for fossil fuel power generation projects, giving African leaders the ability and freedom to secure uninterruptible 24/7 electricity for all of their citizens.

Rwanda to improve electricity supply with $266 million loan

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The African Development Bank has approved a loan of US$266 million to the government of Rwanda in order to expand electricity access and transmission lines across the country.

Rwanda is a relatively small country considering its neighbours on the African continent. It has a population of 12 million but only 41% of Rwandans actually have access to electricity encouraging them out of poverty.

The government has set an ambitious target of installing and distributing enough power to all of its citizens by 2024. As it stands, Rwanda only has 209MW of installed electricity capacity.

The additional funding from the African Development Bank will help to construct an additional 8,000km of transmission lines, boosting connectivity across the country and pushing the country towards universal access.

In addition to national grid improvements, the money will also enable the government to give on-grid power for the first time to 193,000 households, and off-grid power to 124,000 other households.

Giving Rwandans electricity is a way of reducing the poverty rate even further from the significant improvements in recent years. In 2014 the poverty rate reduced from 44% in 2011 to 39%.

The World Bank supports Rwanda on its energy, agriculture and transport sectors, but yet they refuse to fund fossil fuel base-load power plants.

Rwanda is only a small country; with the introduction of one or two small ultra-supercritical coal power plants, the country would reach 100% electrification within a matter of years, not decades.

The $266 million injection of cash into the Rwandan national grid is welcome, but more needs to be done in order to generate more electricity for all Rwandans.

Focus should be placed on energy generation over renewable energy in the first instance; a healthy energy mix is vital, but 100% universal access to electricity should be the number one priority in order to transform Rwanda into a middle-income economy.

Bangladesh to invest in solar panels but not everyone has access to power

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Bangladesh is investing in 22 solar power projects which would generate an additional 1,370MW of power. But universal electricity access is far from a reality, with one quarter of the population still left in the dark.

The Bangladesh state-run infrastructure company Idcol have confirmed that they are looking for a private company to build and run a 10MW solar power plant in the northwestern area of Bangladesh, at the cost of Tk 69 crore (£6.2 million).

The solar plant will sit across 42 acres of land in the northwestern border town of Tetulia. As it stands, the plant will commence producing power in February 2019.

In addition to the above project, the government of Bangladesh have also approved another 22 on-grid solar power projects. This will add 1,370MW to the national grid, helping small communities keeping the lights on all year round.

By 2020, Bangladesh has vowed to ensure that 10% of its power generation comes from renewable sources. In February 2017, the installed capacity rate in Bangladesh stood at 13,555MW.

Currently solar only accounts for 2% of the country’s installed energy sources, with gas accounting for the most at 65%, oil at 20%, coal at 1.8% and the rest sourced from diesel or hydro energy.

The Bangladesh government has pledged to ensure that over 50% of its energy mix will be sourced from coal energy projects, but they still have a long way to go to make this happen.

The government in Bangladesh should reprioritise its agenda to support, finance and build more base-load power projects that ensure the supply of uninterruptible electricity. It is only with low-cost reliable electricity from coal, gas and hydro that communities and individuals can lift themselves out of poverty.

The mission of every government should be to ensure that everyone can power their lives, ensuring they are safe walking home at night with street lamps; providing power to schools giving a good education to children; or allowing people to create their own businesses.

Trump planning to use former coastal military bases to export coal and gas to Asia

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US President Donald Trump is looking at using former military bases on the west coast of the United States of America in order to export gas and coal to Asia.

The administration hopes install gas and coal ports on federal facilities as part of Trump’s agenda to promote America’s ‘energy dominance’ across the world.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has said: “it’s in our interest for national security and our allies to make sure that they have access to affordable energy commodities.”

US coal exports to Asia doubled in 2017, with over 23 million tonnes was exported to Asia from through 2018 to June, with Japan, China and South Korea being the biggest importers of US coal.

Developing countries deserve the right to use fossil fuel-based energy generation, just as all developed countries have done so in the past and continue to do so today. This development by the Trump administration shows the US’s commitment to promoting energy access Asia and the rest of the world.

Every person across the world deserves access to energy, and every country needs to have a strong and secure baseload of power.

New supercritical coal power plant coming soon to Bangladesh

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The new power project will cost over US$2.5 billion and supply an additional 1,320MW to the national grid. Currently, only two-thirds of Bangladeshis have access to power, but this is predicted to substantially increase by 2030.

This coal power plant will be ultra-supercritical, which means that it will be 43% more efficient than conventional coal power stations, emitting fewer emissions whilst producing more electricity.

The Bangladesh government plans to exceed expected demand of 34,000MW by 2030, but current supply stands around 13,000-17,000MW mark. Added to this, just under 60 million Bangladeshis still currently lack any form of power whatsoever.

It is welcome that the government is pushing for a more coal-based electricity grid with an ambitious target of 50% electricity production from domestic and international coal sources by 2030.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific reported in 2015 that there are 52 upcoming power generation projects across the country, either in development, under construction or in the planning phase. Once all 52 are complete, it will provide an additional 18,000MW of power to the national grid.

This new supercritical power station will go along way in increasing the country’s electricity output, as will the other 52 projects under development or construction.

Only by giving Bangladeshis power, will the country achieve their overall goal of being a middle-income country and improving the standard of living in the country.

World's largest clean-coal power station to open in Egypt

World’s largest clean-coal power station to open in Egypt

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A 7 gigawatt coal power station is to be built near the Egyptian town of Hamrawein and is due to be completed by 2024. This will be the world’s first biggest clean-coal power plant using new ultra-supercritical technology in order to cut emissions and improve efficiency.

The project will cost US$4.4 billion and will be funded by both Chinese and Egyptian banks. It will be located 600 kilometres south-east of the capital, Cairo.

Egypt has enjoyed 100% access to electricity for many years, but the country has experienced significant blackouts in the past decade due to an increase in demand by consumers and businesses.

Consumption has increased from 60.5 terawatt hours in 2000 to 164.2 terawatt hours in 2017. Likewise, the energy output of the country has increased from 15GW in 2000 to 42GW in 2017.

Of the current 42GW capacity, 91% is produced using fossil-fuels and the remaining amount comes from renewable technology. Of the renewable technology over 77% is hydropower, a source which the Egyptian government can no longer expand due to a lack of capacity at hydro sites.

This new coal power plant will be the first in the country, as Egypt currently relies on gas power plants to produce most of its energy output.

The Egyptian government has predicted that an additional 54GW of power will need to be added to the national grid by 2022 in order to keep up with demand.

This coal plant along with plans to develop nuclear power and renewable technology in the country will help to achieve their ambitious goal of almost doubling their energy output.

Egyptians are as entitled to cheap, reliable and consistent electricity just as much as everyone else across the world. With over 100 million people in Egypt alone, the government need to ensure that supply keeps up with demand or blackouts will reappear.

Professor Rosemary Falcon of Wits University in South Africa commented on the new ultra supercritical coal project. She said, “A country like Egypt, with nearly 100 million people, needs a lot of base-load power that doesn’t go off.”

The professor also commented on how new coal technology is less of a problem with pollution to day, than it was in the past.

“Those days are thankfully behind us with the new clean technology. We can now burn it with close to zero emission and I look forward to following the project in Egypt,” Professor Falcon said.

This project is a worthwhile investment for the country. The government’s decision to invest in base-load power will ensure every Egyptian can access reliable and affordable electricity.

World’s poorest countries demand more flexibility on tackling energy poverty

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Desperately poor countries are losing the fight against electricity access. As it stands, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to half of all people without reliable power, a terrifying 590 million, which will grow to 674 million by 2030 if action isn’t taken fast.

The UN’s Group of Least Developed Countries, 47 of the poorest countries in the world, predominately from Africa, will put pressure on rich countries to do more to assist with electrification.

At the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, these LDCs were promised $100 billion by 2020 in funding to assist climate finance projects. However, it has been revealed that only $3.5 billion has actually been committed to projects.

Pressure is already mounting on big aid organisations, such as the World Bank, to move away from their narrow view that only renewables are the answer to the world’s energy woes.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, slapped down the charity Christian Aid over their consideration of funding fossil fuel power stations.

He told of the anger felt by many African leaders who were forced to take responsibility over climate change despite putting “almost none of the carbon in the air”, yet are told they cannot use certain fuels to provide reliable “base-load electricity.”

Clare Shakya, a director at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), also believes that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are often forced into accepting finance for energy projects that are not fit for purpose.

Speaking at a recent international development committee, she told of how LCDs felt “there’s too much political risk to not accept any climate finance that they’re offered and so are signing off on things that aren’t about building their national institutions,” such as appropriate electricity infrastructure.

It is important that development is a two-way conversation between donor and recipient. Solving the energy question is a complex issue that requires each side to take a pragmatic approach.

At the moment, focus remains too heavily on off-grid renewables, which cannot provide 24/7 power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. There are also harmful restrictions on funding high-tech and cleaner fossil fuel power stations, that have technologies that provide large-scale affordable power whilst significantly reducing carbon emissions.

If we are to bring light to the 1.1 billion globally, it is time rich countries listen to the wishes of those in the developing world, rather than setting unfair and unrealistic demands on those struggling to combat their countries’ energy poverty.

30,000 households in Zambia now with power

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Felix International and MTN have worked together in order to provide 30,000 households and 150,000 individuals access to off-grid solar energy.

Lyndsay Handler, CEO of Fenix International, said, “The impact on our customers and their communities is transformational: household income is boosted; families are safe from dangerous and polluting kerosene; and children can complete homework after darkness falls.”

This off-grid investment goes along way in terms of providing electricity to the 69% of Zambians that do not have any form of electricity whatsoever.

However, more investment is needed, with a greater emphasis on base-load grid power generation, using fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.

This is the most reliable way of providing electricity for generations to come, meaning less use of batteries, kerosene and wood-burning stoves. Giving Zambians a better quality of life overall.

The ruling Patriotic Front party in Zambia also campaigned during the 2016 elections with a pledge: “In the next five years, the Patriotic Front government shall promote investment in alternative energy sources such as thermal electricity generation from coal and nuclear reactors.”

In this year’s opening of the Zambian Parliament, President Edgar Lungu confirmed that there are plans to develop a 300MW and 340MW coal power plant, and there are also plans for hydro projects introducing a 900MW and a 2,400MW hydro power plant.

All of these projects will help to deliver the necessary infrastructure required to power Zambia and its citizens’ future. It is only with a healthy mix of both off-grid and base-load power projects will they eventually reach universal access to electricity, and provide power to the remaining 11.5 million Zambians currently left in the dark.

Bangladesh should ensure universal access before cutting its energy subsidy

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The Bangladeshi prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has recently confirmed that her government will be looking at removing the energy subsidy when the economy improves. But with high electricity prices and 10% of the population without any form of electricity, is this move a bit presumptive?

As previously written on Why Electricity Matters, Bangladesh has been a leading example for all developing countries to follow as they have turned around their energy access and supply in the past ten years.

Bangladesh has quadrupled its energy output since 2008, increased its power stations from 27 to 121, and has pledged to have 50% of its energy production from coal.

In spite of the improvements to the country’s energy output, there are still 16 million Bangladeshis without any form of electricity; preventing them from accessing better healthcare and better living conditions.

Before the prime minister should even start considering to remove the subsidy, she should ensure that the country reaches 100% access to electricity, meaning that the supply of electricity can equal or outstrip demand, reducing prices that ordinary Bangladeshis have to pay.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has commented that when the economy improves, she will look at removing the subsidy that helps Bangladeshis from accessing power.

Currently, the subsidy reduces the cost of power from Tk6.25 (5.7p) to Tk4.82 (4.4p) per unit.

The average wage is 13,258 taka (£120) per month and the cost of electricity and heating is 2,656 taka (£24) per month. Meaning that Bangladeshis who have access to electricity and is awarded the median wage in the country is currently paying over 20% of their salaries on electricity.

The Bangladesh government should double-down on their commitment of building new on-grid power plants as their first priority.

Only once they have achieved universal access to electricity and given all 163 million citizens this vital resource, can they then look at changing or removing the energy subsidy.