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Burkina Faso steps up to the energy challenge.

Output is not keeping up with demand in Burkina Faso. The Minister of Energy outlines what his country is doing to meet the challenge to Paul Melly.

With few substantial rivers and a climate highly prone to drought, landlocked and forced to rely on costly imported hydrocarbons, Burkina Faso faces huge challenges in meeting its declared ambition to provide electricity to 45% of its citizens within two years--compared with just 18% today.

Moreover, says Dr Bachir Ismael Ouedraogo, the Minister of Energy, power output is not keeping pace with demand, which is rising by 13% a year.

"Almost all domestic production is thermal and is consequently expensive. There are insufficient transmission and distribution lines and these are often in need of repair; and energy efficiency is almost entire absent, right down the chain from generation to the consumers," he says. "To respond adequately to this worrying situation we need sustained investment and an appropriate strategy."

His department has set out a three-track approach:

(1) The creation of an energy mix that takes serious account of renewables, as Burkina Faso's President, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, set out in his political programme. This clearly advocated a transition towards green and renewable forms of energy, with a particular stress on solar energy.

(2) The reinforcement of thermal power stations and transmission lines, through the installation of extra thermal capacity, the diversification of power imports from neighbouring countries and improvements to the national distribution network.

(3) The implementation of a real energy efficiency policy, encompassing industry, public buildings and residential areas, power stations and motor vehicles.

Coordinated progress on these three fronts should enable the country to meet the challenge of 45% electrification by 2020, argues Dr Ouedraogo. By this stage the distribution network should reach 80% of the country, connecting to lm customers and served by a total installed generating capacity of 1000 MW, some 30% of which will be renewable.

He believes the country should contribute to the international drive to tackle climate change by reducing its own reliance on thermal generation--which accounted for 62.9% of national electricity supply, according to the government's National Economic and Social Development Plan (PNDES) for 2016-20. Some 30.7% was imported from neighbouring countries, while domestic renewable generation contributed 6.4%.

But the need to tackle global warming is not the sole reason for diversifying Burkina's sources of power. "The country's heavy dependence on imported hydrocarbons would not allow us to reach our goal of securing the supply of electricity to the population or lowering its cost," he says. "The diversification of our sources of electricity generation has to be an absolute necessity, as a means of contributing to our energy sovereignty."

Solar leads the renewables agenda

In practice this means exploiting Burkina's renewable resources--and solar power above all. The country is located in the Sahel, where for much of the year it does not rain at all and for many months temperatures routinely surpass 45C. Some estimates put the average solar power potential at 5.5 KW hours (KWh) per square metre per day.

These are issues that Dr Ouedraogo knows well, with a doctorate from the University of Manchester (UK) in the economics of renewable energy and climate change.

Efforts are already under way to expand solar generation, with last year's opening of the 33 MW peak (MWp) Zagtouli solar plant and the development of further photovoltaic solar units to add an extra 168 MW. And there are plans for a major solar project with a capacity of 150 MW.

Meanwhile, despite Burkina's location in the arid Sahel, Dr Ouedraogo points out that there is considerable potential for extra hydro-generation. Only four out of 68 possible sites are currently exploited.

Lack of infrastructure and fluctuations in rainfall are largely to blame. But the Energy Ministry has launched a feasibility study of possible hydropower plants at three sites, with a combined potential capacity of 57.7 GW hours that could be fed into the national grid.

Meanwhile, biomass is in fact the most abundant source of energy, with a usable production volume of 2bn cubic metres. Wood charcoal and agricultural waste are already used as traditional fuel of course.

Dr Ouedraogo says that large-scale production of power from biomass has not really been promoted so far, but the national sugar company Sosoco uses sugar cane bagasse to produce heat and electricity, while another parastatal, Citec, generates electricity from cotton waste. (Cotton is a major cash crop in Burkina.) And there are plans for a feasibility study for a power station fuelled with biomass waste.

Dr Ouedraogo points out that Law 014 of April 2017 prioritises the promotion of renewables: "It offers fiscal incentives for renewable energy equipment and measures aimed at facilitating and encouraging the establishment of independent solar power producers and the generation of solar electricity by users themselves."

Projects are also underway for public buildings, health centres and educational establishments to generate their own solar power. "We should stress that renewables account for more than half of Burkina Faso's energy sector capital investment budget," he says.

To assist the integration of solar output into the national power grid, Dr Ouedraogo's department is preparing reforms to stimulate the development of a modernised distribution network that is more competitive and extensive and provides denser coverage. The monopoly role of the national power distributor will end, opening up the sector to both public and private providers; officials are already drafting the specifications that holders of distribution concessions will have to satisfy.

Reaching rural communities

Overall, some 18.83% of Burkinabes have access to electricity today. But there is a massive disparity between urban areas --where 57% are now connected--and the countryside, where the figure is a mere 3%. Dr Ouedraogo has the ambitious goal of boosting access in rural areas to 19% by 2020.

Law 014 established a rural electrification agency (ABER). While it makes sense to connect some communities to the national grid, others are more effectively served through the creation of local networks, each covering a number of villages, set up under a government programme launched in 2017.

"The feasibility studies have already been validated and are now available," says Dr Ouedraogo, explaining that such networks can be supplied by local hybrid power plants or pure solar plants with storage capacity. Small home solar systems also help to extend power provision.

Last year Burkina Faso opened the Zagtouli power station, the largest solar plant in West Africa.

"Our country is proud of this high-tech power station, constructed in record time. It represents a significant advance in our drive to promote an energy mix, by increasing renewable energy's role in electricity output," says Dr Ouedraogo.

"In terms of national generating capacity --excluding imports--this 33 MWp plant represents about 10% of the total output of SONABEL [the national power utility], which is 328.24 MW in thermal and hydro output.

"It not only helps to significantly reduce the imbalance between supply and household electricity demand, but it also helps to bring the average KWh cost down to an acceptable level. For example, the estimated cost of a KWh produced by this plant ranges between 30 and 40 CFA francs (5.5 to 7.3 US cents)--compared with an average cost of CFA 130-150 per KWh of thermal output."

He explains that the key to Zagtouli's competitive costs lie in the way that it was financed, by combining a 22.5m [euro] ($27m) concessional loan from the Agence Frangaise de Developpement (AFD) and a 25m [euro] grant from the European Union.

However, the government is well aware that the supply of concessional aid funding is not limitless and is taking steps to bring in private sector investors too.

"The energy sector requires colossal investments if it is to satisfy the expectations of the population and live up to the country's economic ambitions. Up to now Burkina Faso has benefited from the support of development banks to finance energy sector investments. But we have to recognise that public development aid has reduced since the financial crisis," says Dr Ouedraogo.

"That's why the government has provided for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in its economic policy."
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Title Annotation:INTERVIEW: DR BACHIR ISMAEL OUEDRAOGO Minister of Energy, Burkina Faso
Comment:Burkina Faso steps up to the energy challenge.(INTERVIEW: DR BACHIR ISMAEL OUEDRAOGO Minister of Energy, Burkina Faso)
Author:Melly, Paul
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:6BURK
Date:Jul 1, 2018
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