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

The Africa Report - - COUNTRY FOCUS -

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

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