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    Monday, March 18, 2024

    First Steps in Establishing West Africa as a World Powerhouse

    Obinna Uche

    Opinion Piece

    West Africa is a region of abundance, rich in both human and natural resources   Its renewable energy capacity stands at a staggering 2,000 Megawatts (MW), which could meet the basic energy needs of its population. It is a fundamentally optimistic outlook that could alleviate one of the region’s greatest challenges, providing energy to the 220 million people living without access to power.

    But, in order to realise the above, West Africa’s power requires more than US$540 billion in investment by 2050, including nearly US$230 billion for its network and storage infrastructure.

    Key power markets in West Africa, such as Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal, have already taken bold steps by enabling private sector concessions in both generation and distribution. Unfortunately, these markets’ well-structured power purchase agreements (PPAs) have in some instances led to uncompetitive tariff structures.

    The first important steps

    From the above it’s clear that there’s no silver bullet to accelerate energy rollout in West Africa, however, there are some short-term steps that can be taken to put the region on its way to becoming a potential energy powerhouse.

    For one, collaboration amongst West African nations is vital to address shared energy challenges. Initiatives like the West African Power Pool (WAPP) aim to create a regional electricity market, fostering interconnectivity and resource-sharing among countries.

    WAPP was created to ensure regional power system integration and the realisation of a regional electricity market. The organisation is made up of public and private generation and transmission and distribution companies involved in the operation of the electricity in West Africa.  Member countries include Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

    Second, and a very real challenge faced by many countries of the world, is putting a stop to energy theft.  Illicit activities, including illegal connections and tampering with meters, lead to revenue losses and undermine efforts to expand and improve the energy infrastructure.

    According to a recent report by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, the estimated value of energy lost due to meter tampering, electricity theft, and other non-technical losses in the country is over $390 million annually

    Energy theft exacerbates the financial challenges faced by utilities, putting additional strain on already overextended budges. Ultimately, it becomes a major stumbling block in enhancing energy access and reliability.

    The good news is governments across the region are implementing stricter regulations and penalties to deter energy theft.  Furthermore, public awareness campaigns are underway to educate communities about the consequences of illegal connections, emphasising the societal impact and the importance of paying for consumed energy.

    From a technology solution point of view, the deployment of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and smart grid technologies can help utilities detect and prevent theft. The AMI solution offers various features and capabilities that enhance data collection, analysis, and communication, enabling utilities to detect and prevent energy theft effectively.

    From a practical point of view, smart meters are often equipped with tamper detection mechanisms. The AMI with Smart meters can detect physical tampering attempts, such as bypassing or manipulating the meter in which case it will generate alerts to notify the utility of potential theft incidents. Deploying AMI on smart meters can also improve detection and response to electrical fraud, including real-time transmission of energy consumption anomalies.

    Overcoming West Africa’s energy challenges requires a pragmatic approach which starts with proactively addressing the most pertinent issues that in turn will establish the foundations of this potential world powerhouse.

    By Obinna Uche, Sales Director, Power Systems Division at Schneider Electric Anglophone West Africa


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