Trying to keep the lights on
Weak investment, ageing infrastructure and a reliance on hydropower have contributed to recent power cuts, but new projects are on the horizon
It is very hard to live without light,” explains Oumarou, who lives in the town of Mozogo in the ExtrêmeNord Region. For a year, the inhabitants of this isolated area did not have electricity due to the toppling of some electricity poles in April 2016. “We were cut off from the world – no radio, no television,” says Oumarou after electricity was restored about two months ago. While Cameroon is estimated to have sub-saharan Africa's second-largest potential for hydropower, it still struggles to provide electricity due to a lack of investment and the age of some existing plants and other infrastructure. According to official statistics, electricity coverage is about 53.7% of the population. And that figure hides a number of disparities, as the Agence de Régulation du Secteur de l'electricité (ARSEL) says that only 5% of rural areas have access to the grid. As of 2016, the country had about a dozen large and medium-sized generation plants and about 20 smaller ones, with a combined capacity of 1,292MW. To reach a level of 75% access to electricity, the country needs 3,000MW. That is the government's target for 2023, requiring investments estimated at $6.3bn. Currently, electricity provision problems are the most pronounced in northern Cameroon, and there are also serious deficits in the south. During the dry season – from December to July – weak rains mean that there are lower levels of hydroelectricity production. Until May, every household in the north experienced an average of three load-shedding cuts per week. “We suffered a lot because of this situation. I am very far behind in my work,” explains Joël, a resident of Maroua in the Extrême-nord Region. In early June, electricity distribution company Eneo – which is owned by UK-based investor Actis – announced that it would be reducing the planned cuts to once per week. Later in the month, it said that interruptions to supplies had ended, at least until the next dry season. Households in the north are linked to a 35-year-old dam in Lagdo. Eneo tells The Africa Report that this old infrastructure “is no longer able to perform adequately during the dr y season.” It produces about two-thirds of its 72MW production capacity during that time of the year. The government says that it is looking to raise 100bn CFA francs ($170.7m) to rehabilitate the dam.
PLANS FOR SOLAR
Plans are underway to boost production in the north. Backed with a 182bn CFA franc loan from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a new 75MW dam is being built in Warak. Eneo plans to add an additional 10MW to the grid with a thermal power plant in Maroua that should be operational in July and is developing 35MW of solar capacity that should come online by 2019. An Eneo spokesman tells The Africa Report: “In the Grand Nord, solar is a good opportunity to improve supply in the face of droughts that hurt hydroelectric production.” Anarchic installations are a problem across the country, and in 2016, Eneo had to repair and replace some 67,000 electricity poles. The company says that fraudulent connections to the grid lead to losses of “more than 30bn CFA francs per year”. Collecting debts is also a challenge, especially with state-owned companies and the government administrations. Eneo is now piloting a programme called Smart Eneo in Douala for the use of prepayment meters. Eneo bought distribution concession from the USbased AES in 2014 and the following year agreed a 900bn CFA programme for the sector to cover 2015 to 2031. The company is now in talks to extend its concession, which is set to expire in 2021. In the meantime, the population is waiting for new projects to deliver. The 200MW Memve'ele dam in southern Cameroon is due to come online before the end of the year. Construction of the €1bn ($1.1bn) 420MW Nachtigal dam is due to commence in late 2017 or early 2018 with the backing of Electricité de France, the World Bank and the government. Reinnier Kazé in Yaoundé
In Douala, distribution company Eneo is piloting a programme for the use of prepayment meters