Nuclear EnergyIn August 2012, the West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP) was damaged by the anchor of a ship that was trying to avoid a pirate attack. As a result, the people of Ghana have had to endure agonizing load shedding exercises for over a year as we have waited for the pipeline to be repaired and re-commissioned. Until this occurs, some power plants which depend on gas to run their turbines cannot resume operation. This technical problem has affected the supply of gas to the Volta River Authority (VRA) and Sunon Asogli plant in Tema which, when in operation, generated 200 megawatts (MW) of power for the country. This period of load shedding has been named in Ghanaian parlance as ?dum-sor, dum-sor?, meaning in the Twi language in Ghana: ?off and on?.

 

The WAGP, a joint initiative of several ECOWAS member countries including Ghana, Benin and Togo, was inaugurated during the time of Nigeria?s Obasanjo administration. The pipeline serves to supply gas from the Escravos-Lagos Pipeline to feed gas-fired power plants in West African countries. It is now the main source of gas supply to Ghana?s main generator and supplier of electricity, the Volta River Authority (VRA). The entire pipeline, which passes through Togo and Benin to Ghana, is about 656 kilometers, comprising 600 kilometers offshore in addition to a 56 kilometer onshore section. Until damage was done to the pipeline, Ghana was receiving 123 million cubic feet of gas daily to supplement VRA’s hydro-electricity generation by about 580 megawatts (32.5 per cent), using thermal plants in Tema and Aboadze, near Takoradi.

 

Another project is also in the works to provide some respite for the country: the Ghana Gas Deep Water Pipeline, an initiative of the Ghana National Gas Company, which has already reached pre-commission stage. However, even with the hope of this promising energy project taken into consideration, there would still be a shortfall in the gas required to run the nation?s thermal plants. Given the country?s current challenges, the Electricity Company of Ghana has announced an emergency load-shedding exercise in order to ration the use of the power being generated by VRA. According to the schedule, electricity will be turned off on consecutive days, for twelve hours in the daytime and then six hours in the night of the second day. After a day?s respite, this schedule is repeated.

 

The exercise has compelled many businesses to employ standby generators for the periods when their lights are out. The shortage of power poses a severe threat to Ghana?s economy. Many small-scale businesses including catering companies, barbershops, and hairdressers have been unable to consistently meet customer demand because their businesses depend on a stable supply of electricity. The prohibitive costs of purchasing and running a standby generator make this option infeasible for many SMEs of this scale. At the other end of the spectrum, heavy and medium-scale industrial establishments are also struggling because of non-availability of reliable supply of electricity. Some companies are being forced to lay off workers in order to compensate for the fall in revenue they are experiencing due to the erratic supply of power, worsening the overall economic outlook for Ghana?s citizenry.
The effect of this rationing has also been felt beyond the boundaries of industry. Domestic consumers are struggling with the inconvenience of doing without basic electricity for long stretches of time. In addition, the fluctuations caused by the act of power being cut off and restored to their circuitry have resulted in many expensive electronic gadgets and equipment malfunctioning or being destroyed altogether. Furthermore, Ghanaians have at times been unable to refrigerate foodstuffs properly, resulting in food going bad and having to be thrown away. All of these unfortunate situations are costly.

 

In the light of these challenges, the Ghana government and the Ministry of Energy have been under pressure to do something about the country?s electricity problem and have already taken a number of critical steps towards mitigating the power crisis. Government has so far initiated several projects to generate supplementary electricity for the national power grid. These include 132MW of power from T3 plant in Aboadze-Takoradi, 400MW Bui Dam, 2MW Solar power at Navrongo and the expansion of the T2 thermal plant at Aboadze for an additional 110MW. A public education and sensitization programme has also been embarked upon by government to sensitize people to the benefits of energy efficiency.

These initiatives are commendable examples of an overarching National Energy Policy thrust on the part of government to shore up the country?s energy security in the next few years. A pivotal part of this policy is a drive to increase the ratio of sustainable to non-sustainable energy in the nation?s energy mix. Modern advancements in power-generation technology have allowed many other countries to move beyond legacy solutions towards more sustainable methods of addressing their citizens? energy needs, which include biomass, solar and wind generation. It is government?s intention that these greener, more eco-friendly solutions would not only bring Ghana in line with global energy standards but ensure that the nation is more secure as a consequence of having a diverse portfolio of robust energy solutions. In such a case, disruptions in power supply would be far less likely and local businesses would not be burdened with the current challenges.

Biomass, the means of producing electricity from once living matter such as decayed plant material, is a particularly useful solution as it affords the country avenues for both energy generation and waste disposal. While biomass fuels can be bulky and therefore expensive to collect and transport, the positive environmental benefits afforded to the country offset these costs in the long term. The result is a more efficient use of existing resources, as well as overall benefit to the health and sanitation conditions of the citizenry.

The Volta River Authority has already begun investigations into the feasibility of constructing wind power facilities under the auspices of public-private partnerships (PPP), a laudable government initiative which is already seeing other sectors such as the road and transportation sector utilize private investment for public good. The hope is that the establishment of wind farms in selected areas of the country will further reduce the country?s dependence on hydro and thermal power generation. The expected result: a national power supply that is less susceptible to adverse effects of drought and fuel hikes, which are not under the country?s control.

 

With Ghana?s domestic electricity demand being projected to exceed 5,400MW in 2020, it is also important that the country leverages one of its most abundant energy sources: sunlight, a natural and sustainable source of both heat and light energy. While an initial investment in solar energy comes with significant capital cost, opportunities for private-public partnership exist here also. Recently, news has arisen of the plans of Mere Power Nzema Limited (MPNL) to construct a 155MW solar power plant in the Ellembelle District of Ghana?s Western Region. MPNL is owned by UK-based investors and developers, Mere Power Limited and Blue Energy, who are industry known renewable energy experts. While land has been secured and some tariffs obtained, the plant project awaits approval of pending permits, licenses and a governmental consent and support agreement.

 

The solar plant would constitute one more strategic move on the part of government to increase the renewable energy mix of the nation?s energy sector. Furthermore, renewable energy projects such as solar and biomass plants boost the country?s economy in other ways, serving as a source of direct and indirect employment. Not only would the construction phase involve the hiring of employees, but when up and running, the plant will require additional skilled and unskilled staff to maintain and service it when it is in operation. Furthermore, with the additional electricity generated by such sustainability projects, Ghana gains the ability to export its surplus power to neighbouring countries, which could earn the country valuable foreign exchange.

 

It is commendable that government is already pivoting the nation towards sustainable power. Without energy, the infrastructure which forms the very basis of our societal development buckles. Agriculture, transportation, information technology, communication and the majority of our society?s most basic needs become severely compromised. With an expanding economy and a growing population, Ghana cannot afford to function without the stability of its most fundamental infrastructure. While the current crisis continues to be severely felt, it is encouraging to note that the administration has tailored its National Energy Policy to incorporate the critical role which sustainable energy sources can play in stabilizing the nation?s power supply, improving the robustness of the country?s infrastructure and elevating Ghana to international standards befitting of the middle-income status we continue striving towards.

 

BY? ?E. AGBENYEGA

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