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.
Funding is making its way into the continent, underlining the growing appetite from multilaterals for interconnection schemes. The European Investment Bank is financing a 640m smart grid technology project in Cote 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 firm 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/I1. 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 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. Cote 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 Cote d'Ivoire to improve supplies in the north, the west and the centre of the country. According to Bile Gerard Tanoe, 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 Cote...