Despite the downturn in commodity prices that led to more subdued growth in several of Africa’s resource-intense economies, there is still significant investor interest in Africa’s power sectors, says multidisciplinary engineering consultancy WSP Africa power transmission and distribution director Dinesh Buldoo.
“While a significant amount of investor interest is focused on renewable-energy projects, the company is seeing steady investor interest in other power generating technology options in Africa, especially gas and coal. The reality is that the optimal energy mix for Africa relies on a variety of generation technologies.”
He adds that WSP has played a part in the planning and development of several power projects in different countries in Africa.
“Transmission and distribution networks are, therefore, equally critical components to electrifying Africa,” he emphasises.
Regional integration is increasingly dominating the agendas of African policymakers and donor finance institutions, as many economies in Africa want to maximise their gains, while prioritising their public spending. “There is a focus on developing infrastructure that pools resources and facilitates intracontinental power trade.”
The Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) illustrates this focus, as it is driving several transmission interconnector projects. The SAPP’s projects aim to link or strengthen power interconnections and to allow for cross-border trading between various countries in the Southern African Development Community.
In February, Engineering News reported that one of the SAPP’s projects is a 330 kV electricity interconnector (transmission line) between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A strong transmission link will help both countries to improve the security and reliability of their power networks, which will assist in fostering economic development and regional integration. The project also aims to support the development of an efficient and competitive regional power market to reduce electricity prices.
Options being considered for the transmission line are to connect Kolwezi, in the DRC, to the district of Solwezi, in Zambia, through the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation network at the Lumwana or Kalumbila substations.
WSP has been appointed to develop the transmission line and will undertake a three-stage feasibility study to develop options and recommend a preferred solution for the interconnector. This will include an initial assessment of the routes and substations, data gathering, financial and economic analyses, detailed routed surveys, as well as detailed design and specifications.
“Going forward and, as Africa’s power sectors transition through various planning and roll-out phases, there is undoubtedly a burgeoning of opportunities on the continent. Improving investor confidence even further will, however, require certainty around State-led resource programmes, the prioritisation of these programmes and policy stability,” says Buldoo.
He adds that investors must also have an inherent understanding of local market issues and operating environments, as attending to Africa’s growing demand requires a broader view on electrical infrastructure development.
“It is important to develop the transmission and distribution infrastructure for the efficient distribution of energy to where it is needed – and WSP is playing an active role in helping to make these connections across the continent,” Buldoo concludes.