Africa’s power supply woes

2013-01-10 00:00

WHILE some parts of Pietermaritzburg remain in darkness after Sunday’s storm wreaked havoc with the city’s aging power infrastructure, newly appointed chairperson of the continental electricity conference, DistribuTECH Africa 2013, sees opportunity for improvement.

The new chairperson of the Dist­ribuTECH Africa advisory board, Dr. Willem de Beer, says strong economic growth is driving power demand, but the inability of utilities to guarantee reliable power supplies is acting as a constraint for further growth and is hampering investment in vital energy intensive sectors such as mining.

Power consumption is expected to grow at a rate of 3,4% per year up until 2020, and currently the biggest exporters of power on the continent are South Africa, Ghana and Zambia.

He says while Africa is a market of untapped opportunities, with demand for electricity set to increase significantly as the global economy recovers, utilities face a multitude of challenges with the most significant being high loss levels, collecting revenues, managing demand, uneconomic tariffs and coping with narrow reserve margins.

De Beer said: “It is widely acknowledged that a reliable and sustainable electricity supply infrastructure is critical to ensure amongst others, economic growth, business sustainability and job creation.”

He says Africa presents various business opportunities within the electricity generation, transmission and distribution sector.

“South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania are a few examples of countries where significant infrastructure investment will take place over the next few years,” the new chairperson says.

De Beer said effective asset and resource management requires a great deal of focus while the introduction of renewable energy options and smart grids present new and untapped opportunities.

He says while the generation sector is receiving significant attention, it is generally acknowledged that there is an urgent need for a well-structured convention to debate and explore opportunities. “A well-managed transmission and distribution business must be financially sustainable.

“In addition to the focus on assets, infrastructure and resources, it is also critical to effectively manage the customer interface and aspects such as revenue collection.”

De Beer urged industry players to share views about opportunities for growth by submitting an abstract for consideration as a speaker at the upcoming DistribuTECH Africa 2013 conference at the Sandton Convention in Johannesburg to be held from October 30 to November 1.

He says the unpredictability of power supply in many African countries is one of the main challenges constraining economic and social development. Only 53% of urban and eight percent of rural populations in sub-Saharan Africa have access to electricity as compared to 99% and 88% respectively in northern Africa.

Investment in modern energy infrastructure and the latest power engineering technologies is essential for manufacturing, processing, storage and transportation, as well as the development of small-scale enterprises across the region. According to De Beer, grid connection across Africa is inconsistent with an average of 20% connection across the continent.

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