In the classical spirit of “united we stand, divided we fall,” most African economies are warming up to the idea of electricity exchange through cross-border trade.
Through power pools, neighbouring countries get to weave their separate electricity markets into a mesh of one large regional market in which selling and buying happens simultaneously. That way, the pooled economies enjoy energy security and resilience as a result of access to a diversified basket of power sources and supply. For instance, should a hydropower-dependent country suffer production dips during drought, there would be no reason for concern since it can still access electricity from neighbouring economies with sources not prone to weather conditions. Equally, such a country may choose not to tap expensive diesel-generated power from standby thermal plants during emergency situations and instead turn to its neighbours for cheap and renewable imports as a low-hanging fruit.
To this end, building a power pool involves linking regional transmission lines together to enable electricity transportation in and out of the borders of the member states. In eastern Africa, several projects interconnecting the regional markets are under construction. The power infrastructure tie-up projects are certainly a bright spot in the region’s future energy prospects.
In Kenya, the task of constructing interconnector lines falls squarely under Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco).
Indeed Africa already has several power pools connecting countries of certain regions and economic blocs but much more ground remains uncovered.
Kenya is no exception and falls in the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), whose framework was signed way back in 2005, involving seven countries. They include Kenya, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Sudan.
The main goal of this power pool, whose creation process is ongoing, is to coordinate and harmonise electrical power generation and transmission capabilities of each of the member countries. With the pool, we’ll be able to optimise use of resources and capacities of each country for social and economic development while at the same time minimising environmental degradation.
Equally, the EAPP power pool will help reduce costs associated with power generation and transmission through economies of scale, improve supply reliability and ignite waves of investments in the region. And with a large, diversified regional power grid that is interconnected, competitive rates for consumers will sure follow.
To this end, Ketraco is implementing several electricity transmission projects that will feed into the EAPP. These tie-up projects are, eventually, expected to enhance strategic partnership among participating countries, crucial for regional economic cooperation and stability.
The first regional power interconnection in East Africa was during colonial times in 1955 between Kenya and Uganda – the 132kV line evacuating power from Owen Falls Hydroelectric power station with load centres in Kenya.
For a long time, this line formed the main backbone of Kenya’s power grid as it traversed Tororo, Musaga, Lessos, Lanet and Nairobi. No other regional power link has been built ever since except a few small medium voltage cross-border connections.
We now seek to construct additional regional power interconnectors that will make Kenya a hub for power trade in the region:
Lessos-Tororo Transmission Line Project (Kenya to Uganda) The 132-kilometre Lessos-Tororo transmission line is part of the Interconnection of Electric Grids of the Nile Equatorial Lakes Countries (NELSAP) project. This project comprises construction and upgrade of interconnection lines of the grids of Nile Equatorial Lakes countries. This aims to increase the countries’ cross-border electricity exchange and trade as well as improve the transient stability of the systems, safety and affordability of supply. It will also inject flexibility in the operation of the interconnected networks of the five Nile Basin Initiative countries.
The 400kV Lessos-Tororo double circuit transmission line will enable power interchange between the two countries, reduce transmission technical losses and improve regional integration by enabling cross-border energy trade.
This is expected, in the long run, to facilitate power trade within the countries of the Eastern Africa Power Pool.
The financiers for the project are the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Government Government of Kenya at a cost of Sh4.9 billion. However, construction of this project was temporarily stalled due to the EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contract termination. That notwithstanding, we’re glad to note that the parties involved are now finalising negotiations for amicable settlement to facilitate resumption of construction by a new contractor.
There is also the Eastern Electricity Highway project that involves construction of a transmission line and interconnect the electricity network of Ethiopia with the Kenyan network at the Suswa substation.