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Mauritius turns to bagasse to cut power costs: Mauritius is producing an increasing amount of electricity from local renewable resources, such as bagasse, obtained from sugar cane to reduce its reliance on hydro-carbons. Nasseem Ackbarally reports from Port-Louis.

Mauritius is increasingly turning to renewable resources to meet its energy requirements and bagasse is becoming an important source of energy. Bagasse is obtained as a by-product of the island's all-important sugar cane industry. After sugar cane is crushed to extract the juice to make sugar, the waste product can then be burnt to generate electricity. One tonne of crushed sugar cane produces between 250kg and 300kg of bagasse. This material contains about 50% cellulose fibre and 48% water.

Bagasse processing plants have been built near many sugar factories. Previously this resource was simply used by individual factories to produce electricity for their own consumption, but today, thanks to bagasse, the island can substitute 200,000 tonnes of coal annually and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 650,000 tonnes. This saves the island some [euro]20m in foreign exchange a year, and reduces oil imports by around 20,000 tonnes. About 35% of Mauritius' electricity needs is currently produced by independent power producers (IPPs) using bagasse and coal.

Continuous power producers that just use bagasse operate only during the crop season when this material is available. They produce 7% of the electricity for the national network managed by the Central Electricity Board (CEB). The biggest IPP, the Centrale Thermique de Belle Vue (CTBV), is in the north of the island. It produces about 325MW of electricity. Local private companies Harel Freres and The Mount, with a combined 64% stake, and the Mauritian government-owned State Investment Company, with an 8% shareholding, as well as the French company Sechilienne-SIDEC with a 27% interest, have invested [euro]90m in this station. A new IPP station of the same type is being built in the south of the island and should be operational later this year. The Centrale Thermique du Sud will produce 30MW of electricity for the CEB from next October with planned increases of 32MW coming on line from 2006 and another 32MW being added in 2008 and 2010.

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Developing the use of bagasse, says Deputy Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, is a priority of Mauritius' energy policy in the medium to long term. He says that from 2006, all new electricity generation projects must include a bagasse component in line with the government's Sugar Sector Strategic Plan (SSSP). That will help alleviate the rapid rise in the price of energy that the island's economy has been facing.

After years of a tariff freeze, electricity prices have gone up by 37% in the past few months. The price of services has also risen sharply as producers and transport operators demand an increase in their charges to defray the increased cost of fuel and electricity.

Energy crisis in SADC

According to Cyril Mayer, director-general of the Centrale Thermique de Belle Vue, the potential of bagasse is enormous. "If all of Mauritius' bagasse was used efficiently, the island could generate 800m KW of electricity meeting about 50% of its demand for electricity," he says.

"This is a low-cost resource as compared to other forms of energy," explains Jean-Claude Hoareau, director-general of the Mon Desert Alma sugar estate. Eleven sugar factories are operational in the island and they produce about 700,000 tonnes of sugar and 2m tonnes of bagasse, largely sufficient to feed the thermal station's demand for feedstock during the year. Using bagasse as a combustible to produce electricity and selling it to the national network brings additional revenue to the Mauritian sugar industry in the face of severe threats from decreasing sugar prices on the European market.

Meanwhile, a severe energy crisis looms over the 14 member countries of SADC. Last August, at the Heads of States and Governments Summit in Mauritius, Secretary-General Prega Ramsamy warned that electricity suppliers would be unable to meet demand in the region during the next two years because of a rise in economic activities and population growth.

"The crisis will reach us in 2007 if no concrete action is taken at the SADC and Nepad level," Ramsamy warned. He commented that energy generation in the region had remained static during the past year as regards distribution while demand had grown rapidly.

Within SADC, energy is considered a priority issue as a key to regional development. A number of projects have been launched, two of them to be found in DRCongo and Mozambique.

The one with the greatest potential is in DRCongo which, if it came to fruition might generate about 3500 megawatts of electricity initially to supply four other countries, namely Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa from the Inga Dam. This was approved in October last year by the energy ministers and public service directors from the five countries. A company would be established with a total investment of $4.5bn from these countries. The company, based in Botswana, would be the first of its kind on the continent.

The other big development in the region is the restructuring and upgrading of the immense Cabora Bassa dam in Mozambique, built under Portuguese colonial rule initially to distribute electricity to South Africa at preferential rates.

Mozambican and Portuguese officials have lately discussed the transfer to Mozambique of the 82% shareholding of the Hydroelectrique Cabora Bassa owned by the Portuguese government. Currently, Mozambique owns just 18% of the company that operates the dam on the Zambezi River in the central region of Mozambique.

Both these projects will take some years to come on stream. Mauritius is meanwhile determined to diversify its energy resources by encouraging the use of solar energy, and has launched a wind energy project. Research is also being undertaken on ocean tidal energy, and ethanol is being produced from sugar cane as an alternative to petrol. It is envisaged that more and more cars in Mauritius will be converted to run on this fuel.

RELATED ARTICLE: TURNING TO THE SUN FOR HEATING

In recent years thousands of Mauritians have installed solar water heaters on the roofs of their homes to heat their water supply with solar energy. About 10,000 households have obtained loans at a preferential annual interest rate of 6% over five years from the Development Bank of Mauritius (DBM) to purchase these water-heating photo-voltaic solar panels costing between [euro]800 and [euro]1000.

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Many others have taken loans at commercial rates, or paid cash for their water heaters. Kaveeta Aubeeluck is one such householder to have invested in this technology. "I installed solar heaters because the fuel crisis will never end. I get hot water 24 hours a day. One day, I would like to light my house with the help of the sun. I am not worried about fuel because the sun shines over my head," she says.

The DBM loan programme for solar technology was initiated by the Mauritius government in 1992 after fuel prices rose dramatically following the first Gulf War. Mauritius was importing oil from Kuwait, the country whose invasion by Iraq sparked that conflict.

The aim was two-fold: to encourage people to use the sun as fuel to reduce the dependency of the island on petroleum products, and to protect the environment of the small 2,000sq km island from pollution resulting from burning fossil fuels.

Across the island there are many houses equipped with solar panels which tap the sun's rays to heat between 185 and 300lt of hot water daily--sufficient for families of between four to eight members. Poles supporting small panels are also a common sight in many public gardens, parks and car park areas. They were installed by the local authority to charge batteries during the day which then power sodium lamps at night. Port-Louis councillor Tirat Moossun says the use of solar energy helps to reduce the council electricity bill which otherwise would keep growing as the city develops.

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Title Annotation:ENERGY
Author:Ackbarally, Nasseem
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:6MAUI
Date:Mar 1, 2005
Words:1292
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