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18.02.2015 Opinion

The Best Mix Of Power Sources: The Best Strategy To Ending The Electricity Crisis In Ghana

By Alhaji Mustapha Iddrisu || Energy Analyst
The Best Mix Of Power Sources: The Best Strategy To Ending The Electricity Crisis In Ghana
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Ghana has made tremendous strides in electricity penetration as compare to other African countries. The country enjoys a total installed capacity of 2,845MW mainly from hydro, thermal and more recently from solar. Over 70% of Ghanaians have been hooked on to the national grid but constant supply of the electricity has been a major issue for some time now. The country's electricity demand is increasing at the rate of 12% which calls for urgent measures to address the shortfall.

Last year, I heard the Energy Minister was "joggling" in the offices of independent power producers in China ostensibly to "woo" them to invest in Ghana's power sub-sector. I commend the minister for his zeal towards attracting investments into the energy sector to quicken the achievement of the generation capacity target (5,000MW) as promised by the government.

However, if the government wants to achieve its electricity generation target of 5,000 mega watts by 2016, the country needs every single source of energy for the electricity generation in Ghana. To have secure, affordable and reliable electricity, the country has to diversify more its electricity generation mix. In the government's policy formulations, the electricity generation should be premixed on economic performance, reducing carbon dioxide emissions and maintaining a secure energy supply. This strategic thinking will go along way towards meeting the challenge of diversification of the energy sector.

For almost half a century now, the main source of electricity generation in Ghana is through hydro and thermal. The hydroelectricity power accounts for over 55.5% of the generation mix, comprising Akosombo Hydro Power Station, Kpong Hydro Power Station and Bui Hydro Power Station with generating capacities of 1,020 MW, 160 MW and 400 MW respectively.

The hydro sources of electricity provide enormous benefits to the country in terms of transportation, tourism, fishing and irrigated farming activities along the shorelines. The construction of the Akosombo Dam triggered Ghana's industrial and economic activities, growth and expansion. Furthermore, they afford the country an opportunity to earn some foreign exchange by exporting some of the electricity to Togo and Benin. It is worth mentioning that hydro sources produce near zero carbon emissions. It is therefore, environmental sound and eco-friendly source of energy. Hydropower is an attractive energy source as it is renewable with minimal operational emissions of greenhouse gases.

However, climate change with its resultant erratic rainfall patterns has threatened its sustainability. Changes in the amount and timing of river runoff, couple with increased reservoir evaporation will have significant impacts on the production of hydroelectric power world-wide. For instance, Currently, the Akosombo dam is operating with four out of its six turbines at the water level below five feet at its minimum operating level of 240ft generating. The maximum operating water level is 278 feet. With the water level far below the required operating standard, the plant is currently generates 558 megawatts of electricity instead of its installed capacity of 1020 megawatts. This scenario therefore, implies that our over reliance on hydroelectric power in Ghana will be problematic in the long run.

Another significant energy source the country relies heavily on is thermal sources of electricity generation. The thermal sources are principally derived from gas and light crude oil. The VRA's thermal generated capacity is 922 MW at Aboadze while the independent Power Producers have a total capacity of 310 MW, comprising Sunon Asogli (200) and CENIT (110). Insufficient and unreliable gas supply as well as the cost of the light crude oil are the major hindrances to the thermal electricity generation in Ghana. According to the Volta River Authority(2014), it costs almost 3 million dollars per day to produce the thermal electricity using light crude oil. Subsequently, the cost would definitely be passed on to household and corporate consumers. However, recent falling of crude oil prices globally should relief the thermal producers in the country.

More so, the coming on stream of the Ghana Gas Company with high potential for domestic gas, the thermal generation is projected to take the lead in the energy mix of the country in the next decade or so. Gas is considered as the transitional energy source because of its relative cheaper cost and lower environmental impacts.Thank God, the Gas Processing Plant at Atuabo is due for commercial commissioning by first quarter of 2015.

More independent power producers have therefore expressed interest and readiness to invest in the thermal generation both at Aboadze and Tema. For example, TAQA and Cenpower Group will partner Ghana to operate additional 300 and 350 megawatts of power at Aboadze and Kpone respectively. Meanwhile, low price regime offered to consumers that has been disincentive for private capital in the energy sector.

There is also huge potential for electricity generation from renewable sources such as solar and wind as well as biomass. The Mahama led-administration therefore, deserves tonnes of commendation for the novel commissioning of the 2 megawatts of solar energy at Navrongo. This bold initiative, the first of its kind in Ghana, has boosted the country's energy mix. Furthermore, there are more than 4,000 off-grid photovoltaic systems privately installed across the country with a total capacity of over 1 MW. However, the renewable sources potential of the country are still under exploited.

Apart from the initial huge capital expenditure requires in the renewable energy technologies, their running or operating cost is minimal. They are economically affordable and environmentally sound, so more deployment of the renewable sources is required to alter and boost the country's generation mix. The coming into the electricity industry of the Nzema Solar Project, a subsidiary of Blue Energy, to construct 155 MW in Ghana (which is considered the largest in Africa) is the policy in the right direction.

It is hoped that this will increase the mix for renewable energy from the current 1% to 6%. The Keta Basin and the coastal areas also have significant potential for wind energy that has to be exploited by independent power producers. This will aid to fast track the government's aim of increasing the renewable energy penetration in Ghana to the 10%.

Promotion of the right electricity generation mix demands that coal powered electricity sources are also be considered seriously. The coal-fired power electricity generation has received numerous criticisms from climatologists because of its high emission records and waste management issues. Yes, it is dirtiest but cheapest source of energy in the world. Thus, many countries still generate their electricity almost entirely from the coal. For instance, South Africa has 93% of coal electricity generation, Poland has 87%, China has 79%, Australia has 78%, Kazakhstan 75%, India 65%, Israel 58%, Morocco 51% and USA generates 45% from the coal ( IEA 2012).

The refreshing news is that the "clean coal technology" has been developed to allay the climate concerns. It is therefore, my candid opinion that at least 20% of coal powered in the electricity generation mix in Ghana will not be far fetched, bearing in mind that it is still constituted the highest portion of the electricity generation mix by other countries. Hence, the proposed building of a 700MW coal-fired power plant in Ghana by Shenzhen Energy Group (SEG), the mother Company of Sonon Asogli, should be given the fullest support and pursued with determined effort by the government. I however, suggest that the capacity building and training of Ghanaians in the area of waste management should be critically considered.

The mentioning of nuclear energy in Ghana sends worrying signals to many as a result of its radioactive waste, radiations and its likely abuse for nuclear weapons. It has been on the radar in Ghana since the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to research on its possibility. But this has not been aggressively pursued over the years due to lack of capacity and needed investment. The former president, John Agyekum Kufuor revived the plans and it was envisaged that nuclear power plant will be commissioned by 2018. Nuclear energy is clean and will preserve the earth's climate.

There is no doubt that nuclear power could also help resolve the current electricity deficit in the country but I am skeptical about its realisation in the foreseeable future. Possible practical obstacle that will make it impossible in Ghana has to do with initial cost in setting up the nuclear power plants considering the country's current precarious financial situation.The nuclear energy is made up of the largest share of France's energy consumption with high level of expertise.

Globally, OECD countries account for more than 80% of worldwide nuclear generation capacity, with the top four countries, USA: 104 reactors; France: 58 reactors; Japan: 54 reactors, Russia: 32 reactors, accounting for 62%. In each of these countries, nuclear power accounts for approximately 20%, 74%, 30%, and 17% of their total generation capacity respectively. However, the recent Fukushima Nuclear Plant disaster in Japan has reignited the debate on its safety issues. After this near disaster, Japan contemplated abandoning her nuclear power plants.

But none of these countries has decided to conclusively abandon future plans for nuclear as a result of the events at Fukushima. Due to the cost of imported oil and the rising deficit of the country, Japan reconsiders her decision on the use of nuclear energy. Energy analysts usually describe the nuclear power plants as "necessary evil"

Each source of electricity generation has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of affordability, environmental soundness and economic efficiency.Therefore, a best selection of the various sources to ensure stable supply of high-quality electricity at lower cost is what governments should be considering in her primary public policy initiatives moving forward. The combination of the different power sources commonly known as "the best mix of power sources" could deliver stable, low-cost of electricity supplies to Ghanaians and contribute to creating a low-carbon economy.

A key objective of Ghana should therefore, be focused on providing affordable, constant supply and accessible quality electricity to support the country's accelerated economic growth. Henceforth, Ghana's primary energy policies and regulatory measures should be tailored towards tackling the electricity challenges of improved affordability and access to clean, reliable electricity supply.

To ensure stable access to energy resources and prevent the "Dumsor Dumsor phenomenon from happening again in Ghana", the government should develop a mix of energy sources by avoiding excessive dependence on any single source(hydro). In other words, the country should strive to establish the “best mix” of power sources, combining hydropower, thermal power, solar, wind, biomass, coal and other power sources in an optimal balance while comprehensively considering issues of energy security, economic efficiency and environmental performance.

The key to achieving the “best mix” is to strike an optimal balance between wide range of energy sources. Looking at the sordid story of hydro in Ghana, the "best mix” of power sources should comprise thermal power and solar as well as coal sources forming the base, with hydro generating sources now providing supplementary energy at peak times.

With or without dumsor demonstrations, the government must continue in its efforts towards finding the lasting solution to the perennial energy crises that have bedevilled this country over the years. Lets the policy makers and engineers get to work.

Alhaji Mustapa Iddrisu
Energy Policy Analyst

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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