Cross-border power to boost African economies

21st April 2017 By: Robyn Wilkinson - Features Reporter

With the announcement of an ambitious power project to connect Cape Town and Cairo within the next three years by regional organisation the Eastern Africa Power Pool, the opportunities for reliable cross-border electricity generation are once again in the spotlight, says power generation solutions provider APR Energy.

“It’s no secret that there is a significant power generation deficit across Africa. During the past decade, APR Energy has installed more than 1 GW of generating capacity in 11 African countries – and that’s a drop in the bucket, compared with demand. “What is new, though, is the amount of attention the problem has been receiving lately,” says APR Energy global sales VP Paul Marcroft.

Some of the interest, beyond the widespread need for electricity, appears to be driven by forecasts of robust economic growth over the next few years – and concern that a lack of infrastructure could deter investments and development across the continent, he adds.

However, a significant challenge to power infrastructure development is a shortage of funds. “It’s a vicious cycle – these countries lack the revenue to invest in power, but without reliable generating capacity, they can’t grow their economies.”

Cross-border power is a solution that is gaining popularity in some parts of Africa, with Côte d’Ivoire, for example, already exporting some of its excess power capacity to Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali, Marcroft highlights.

“We believe the development of regional power hubs and additional transmission infrastructure to support a broader adoption of cross-border power will transform the Southern, West and East Africa power pools from concepts into reality, and make them drivers of economic growth across sub-Saharan Africa.”

Marcroft explains that countries that have indigenous natural gas or access to tanker shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) – such as South Africa, Ghana, Mozambique and Namibia – could install enough generating capacity using fast-track mobile turbines to meet local demand. Excess power could then be exported to neighbouring countries.

“It would be a win-win for everyone involved. The host country could generate export revenues and the importing countries would gain access to much-needed electricity without investing millions of dollars and many years building permanent power plants.”

A Bridge to Permanent Power
While fast-track mobile turbines solutions offer many benefits for temporary power supply, Marcroft stresses that they are not a permanent solution, as they are not as efficient as an installed combined-cycle plant.

He points out that such solutions are useful when large blocks of reliable power are needed in weeks rather than years, with the rapid availability and the turbines’ power density making them an ideal bridging solution that can provide from 20 MW to 500 MW of reliable baseload electricity during the construction of a combined-cycle plant or other permanent generating capacity.

Once the permanent plant is completed, the mobile units can be decommissioned, removed from the site and redeployed to a new location.

“The construction of permanent power plants can be daunting. The process of planning, building and eventual commissioning can take years. “Throw in the lack of available financing, permitting hurdles, inadequate or ageing infrastructure and sociopolitical issues, and the timeline for permanent power can seem insurmountable for many developing nations.”

However, with mobile power generation, the 621-million people in sub-Saharan Africa who lack electricity do not have to wait years for this key ingredient of economic growth and a better quality of life, concludes Marcroft.