Generating electricity from wind power in sub-Saharan Africa has largely been the preserve of a few pioneering individuals and various aid-funded projects aimed at poverty alleviation - until recently, that is. Governments are now thinking about renewable energy in the face of rocketing generation costs, growing demand, looming power deficits and concerns over fossil-fuel dependency and climate change. It is early days, with all sorts of obstacles, not least financial, but the winds of change are beginning to stir the African air.
There is no shortage of wind. A number of African countries have "outstanding" resources, says Eric McCartney of Chapin International, a project finance and investment advisor active throughout the continent. Most rely on imported petroleum products and hydropower to generate electricity. But in east Africa, as one example, the wind blows strongest in the dry season, creating an excellent synergy between wind and hydro. Wind developers here are planning some of sub-Saharan Africa's most ambitious projects.
Other multi-megawatt projects are already in the works in countries such as Ethiopia, South Africa and Senegal. Elsewhere, small off-grid wind or hybrid wind-diesel plant provide an answer for the vast majority of the population - as much as 75% - who have no access to the grid and are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.
Governments are starting to formulate renewable energy policies, setting targets and establishing regulatory frameworks. Many are now courting private-sector investment, rather than relying on donor-funded public sector development as in the past. Given the higher risks associated with investing in these developing markets, however, aid agencies, development banks and multilateral institutions still have an important role to play in getting projects built.
Among the challenges facing investors, Chapin cites weak institutional and legal frameworks, doubts over the credit-worthiness of power purchasers, poor construction and maintenance, exchange-rate risk and whether profits can be repatriated, all of which add to the cost of capital. Nevertheless, well planned projects in wind-rich regions can still be economical even at power purchase prices competitive on the market, Chapin argues, particularly if carbon credits can be added to the pot.
First multi-megawatt facilities
Until just a few weeks ago, South Africa was the leader in wind power activity in the sub-Sahara region. Although the country musters a mere 8.4 MW of installed operating capacity, estimates put its onshore potential alone at up to 10 GW. In 2003, the government set a renewable energy target of 10 TWh by 2013, which would require some 3500 MW of wind. Three months ago it introduced guaranteed premium purchase prices for renewable generation, at rates that had developers scrambling to secure sites (Windpower Monthly, May 2009). All seemed to be going great guns, until the news last month that state utility Eskom will not be able to fulfil its five-year ZAR 385 billion (EUR34 billion) capital expansion plan. One of the main victims is the 100 MW Koeknaap wind project, which is now on indefinite hold.
The South African halt to progress means Ethiopia is likely to step into the limelight with sub-Saharan Africa's first multi-megawatt facility. The 120 MW plant is now under construction at Ashegoda, to the north of Addis Ababa. The first 30 MW is due online by the end of the year, followed by 45 MW in both 2010 and 2011. It is being built on a turnkey engineer, procure and construct basis by French turbine manufacturer Vergnet, which is supplying 120 of its new 1 MW units. The machine is a radical departure from design norms for megawatt scale technology (Windpower Monthly, January 2009). French development agency AFD and BNP Paribas are providing EUR208.6 million in finance.
An even more ambitious project is under development south of the border in Kenya. If all goes to plan, the 300 MW Lake Turkana wind farm will be Africa's biggest when completed in 2012. It could be even bigger, says Lake Turkana Wind Project's Chris Staubo. Site wind speeds are a high 11 m/s and there is room for 2 GW. The project is now permitted and the African Development Bank recently agreed to act as mandated lead arranger for a EUR300 million loan.
Kenya's first and only grid-connected turbines so far are four Belgian WindMaster 200 kW machines donated by the Belgium government in the early 1990s at Ngong Hills, near Nairobi, and in the northern town of Marsabit. None are now functioning, although the Kenya Electricity Generating Company is supposed to be repairing one of the units at Ngong Hills. More recently, Belgium also provided concessional financing for a new 5.1 MW plant at Ngong Hills. TPF, a Belgian engineering and management consultancy firm, is building the plant under a turnkey contract at a cost of EUR10 million. Commissioning of the six Vestas 850 kW turbines should take place sometime next month.
The two 250 kW turbines at Marsabit are also due to be replaced under a build, operate and transfer contract awarded to Kenwind Marsabit, a joint venture between local company Wind Energy Ltd and Germany's Wind Park Solutions. They are waiting to sign a power purchase agreement with state utility Kenya Power and Light Company. Wind Energy is also developing a 100 MW project on the coast at Malindi to be built in two phases. The first 30 MW could be up and running early 2012, if finance can be found.
PRIVATE KENYA INITIATIVES
A number of other private companies are also said to be carrying out feasibility studies, including Kenya's WindFlow Power in Marsabit and Osiwo Power in the Ngong, Kajiado area, and Dutch wind project developer Aeolus Associated in Ngong. All told, these private initiatives amount to around 500 MW, according to government sources. Plans are also afoot for a 100 MW facility in the Chalbi Desert, east of Lake Turkana, where the government is seeking funds for feasibility studies.
Driving all this activity is a favourable wind resource coupled with government policies to promote renewable energies in the face of recent droughts and volatile petrol prices. To this end, the government introduced guaranteed purchase prices for renewables in April 2008. New wind plant under 50 MW will receive $0.09 kWh for the first 15 years of operation. Power purchase contracts for plant greater than 51 MW will be negotiated on a commercial basis, but producers are guaranteed priority purchase, transmission and distribution.
The Kenyan government also called for proposals in February for the installation of 33 wind measurement masts around the country, with World Bank support. While previous campaigns indicated a number of sites with speeds over 7 m/s, particularly around Marsabit, more accurate measurements are required.
On the horizon
Over on the west coast, Senegal may see its first grid-connected turbines spinning in a couple of years. If all goes well, the 125 MW project, which is fully permitted, will supply 10% of the country's electricity. State utility Senelec wants to increase the share of renewables to 20%; at present it relies almost entirely on imported fossil fuels.
A project is also firming up in Djibouti, on the Gulf of Aden. The Djibouti electricity company has an agreement with an American-affiliated company, Maple Indian Ocean Resources, for a 40 MW wind power plant, which could expand to 200 MW at a later date.
In Namibia, projects totalling nearly 200 MW are edging closer. Aeolus Associated, in a joint venture with United Africa Group, a local property and construction company, plan to install 92 MW in two phases at Luderitz and Walvis Bay. "The projects are making good progress, says Aeolus' Leo van Gastel. He expects more news in August, but declines to give details. The other 90 MW is being developed by Electrawinds of Belgium. In May, the family-owned renewable energy firm applied for a production licence for 45 MW at Luderitz and 55 MW at Walvis Bay. To date, Namibia has a single second-hand Danish WindWorld 220 kW unit in operation. It was erected near Walvis Bay in 2005 with assistance from the Danish overseas aid agency, DANIDA.
Tanzania, in east Africa, has a number of good sites, with winds strongest in the dry season when the country's hydro generation is at its lowest. In 2002-03 a DANIDA-funded resource assessment and feasibility study indicated good potential in the north-east. While further study is needed to see if it is economically viable, the report recommended a demonstration project for grid connection of at least 30 MW. So far, the only concrete activity is a micro-turbine erected by the Tanzania Traditional Energy Development and Environment Organisation for research purposes. According to the British BBC news service, however, a 50 MW wind project should be completed this year by Wind East Africa Ltd at Njiapanda in the Singida region of north-central Tanzania. The facility, consisting of 24 turbines, is said to represent an investment of $113 million and will supply almost 10% of Tanzania's electricity needs.
French company Eco Delta Developpement (EDD) is also developing 24 MW in Togo, in West Africa, via its local Delta Wind Togo subsdiary, in which it holds a 85% stake. Located near the capital, Lome, the project is to be built in two separate developments of 12 MW.
To the north of Djibouti, Eritrea's first turbines were connected in 2007 in the port of Assab. The three Vergnet 250 kW machines were installed as part of a $4.154 million pilot project financed by the UN's Global Environment Facility. The second phase consists of building small decentralised systems to bring electricity to six rural villages north of Assab, which was to have been completed last month. Turkish turbine manufacturer Soytes is supplying machines ranging from 5 kW to 50 kW for wind-diesel hybrid and stand-alone systems for desalination, domestic use, water pumps and the like. The rest of the money will go towards capacity building in the energy ministry and private sector.
The central African state of Rwanda is assessing its wind power potential. Earlier this year, Belgian consultancy 3E was selected to draw up a wind atlas and identify five sites for development. Rwanda is targeting 90% renewable generation by 2012 and plans to encourage greater private sector involvement to speed up the pace of development. Measures under discussion include the waiving of import duties and the introduction of fixed power purchase prices, or "feed-in tariffs."
Various islands around the coast of Africa are also starting to harness their wind power. The French island of La Reunion is ahead of the game with 17 MW turning, all of them Vergnet 275 kW turbines. Of these, 10.1 MW belongs to private French developer Aerowatt, the rest to EDF Energies Nouvelles, the renewable energy arm of French utility EDF. Aerowatt should add another 1.6 MW at Ste-Marie next year and has applied for 6 MW at Ste-Rose.
Vergnet also supplied the three 60 kW units coupled to a diesel plant on Rodrigues, an island in Mauritius, in 2003 under a pilot project run by the Central Electricity Board. Last October, the board signed another agreement with Vergnet for two 275 kW machines, scheduled for installation this summer. Between them, the five turbines should meet over 10% of the island's electricity needs.
The Mauritius government wants renewables to supply 65% of the country's energy by 2020, up from 20% today, with wind power providing around 6%. As a first step, the renewables ministry last year called for 25-40 MW at Bigara to be built as a joint public-private project. It has also asked for expressions of interest to build 100 MW, using any technology, on a build, own and operate basis, for plant not exceeding 50 MW. Also in Mauritius, a sugar refining company, Mon Tresor and Mon Desert, announced it was developing around 25 MW of wind power at its Britannia processing plant. It is now taking wind speed measurements and hopes to install the first turbines in 2010. Aerowatt is assisting and has also proposed a number of projects on its own account.
The installation of Madagascar's first turbines had to be postponed following political unrest earlier this year. All being well, the five 250 kW machines will start turning at Ramena, on the northern tip of the island, in 2010. The demonstration facility belongs to the local organisation Mad'Eole, working with the Switzerland-based Climate Protection Partnership, a non-profit organisation that supports carbon offsetting projects. The turbines - either new machines from India or secondhand models from Germany - will be coupled to fuel-oil generators on a local grid. Eventually, the plan is to produce some parts locally under licence.
Lastly, the Portuguese Cape Verde islands off West Africa are home to eight 300 kW turbines supplied by Nordtank (now part of Vestas) 13 years ago and installed on Sao Vicente, Santiago and Sal islands with Danish funding. Many of the units are no longer operational due to lack of maintenance. But with the government now aiming to meet 50% of its power needs from renewables by 2020, compared to 3.2% today, the market is on the move. In March, Portugal signed a memorandum of understanding with Cape Verde for a credit line of EUR100 million to develop solar and wind energy.
A couple of projects are already under way. The donor-funded infrastructure development company InfraCo is in late-stage development of four projects with nominal capacities totalling around 24 MW on the islands of Santiago, Sao Vicente, Sal and Boa Vista. The estimated capital cost is in the region of $80 million, with support coming from the World Bank and the Swedish international development agency, SIDA. The Dutch government is also supporting a small project under development on Santo Antao island.