From the Editor’s Keyboard

Energy access in Sierra Leone

29 September 2018 at 22:46 | 2800 views

By Bailor Emperor Jalloh, Freetown Bureau Chief

Energy is fundamental to human and economic development, but in my home country, Sierra Leone, a tiny country in West Africa, 99 percent of the rural population is without electricity and in urban areas thousands lack power.

Although energy access is imperative, grid expansion is extremely costly and progress is low. With renewable, distributed energy, Sierra Leone can leapfrog the traditional grid - centric approach and deliver energy access in half the time, at a fraction of the cost.

In Sierra Leone, a series of research efforts have revealed that 13 percent of the population has access to electricity; in rural areas, only 1 percent of homes and businesses have access to energy,90 percent of those in rural areas use battery - powered torches. Batteries cost on average 10 - 15 percent of households’ income, but are as high as 66 percent of income in some regions, resulting in families unable to light their homes, businesses that use torches spend between 4 - 20 percent their revenue on lighting.

Businesses using diesel generators spend 11 - 50 percent of their revenue on lighting and over 35,000 expensive diesel generators are in use within the country and in rural towns generators are used to charge mobile phones. Yet charging stations are often available for 3 - 4 hours a day, with frequent shut downs due to lack of fuel.

Only the major cities of Freetown, Bo, Makeni and Kenema have central grid supply and even in urban areas power can be erratic. System losses are high, with transmission and distribution losses of over 38 percent and the estimated cost for the extension of transmission lines is $ 300,000 per km and that Sierra Leone already has a net power deficit of 300 - 500 MW. A 10 - 20 percent annual increase in power demand is foreseen in the next 10 years.

The United Nations has identified universal energy access as global imperative, energy experts predict it will cost $ 700 billion and take nearly a quarter of a century to achieve that goal.

Distributed renewables is an opportunity to replace all of the batteries and kerosine for off -grid lighting with modern renewables. Off - grid solutions will save Sierra Leone over US$205 million annually. Solar lights can help families save 15 percent of their annual income and provide benefits for health, education and welfare. Large solar households systems, mini - grids, micro - hydro and small scale wind can power health centres, businesses and agriculture. The decentralised renewables sector will also lead to job creation. In West Africa, the solar lighting sector alone is expected to create 500,000 jobs.

Estimates suggest that Small Scale Hydro could represent 60 percent of renewable energy potential in Sierra Leone and Sierra Leone has good solar radiation potential of around 1400 -1800 kWh/ m.

For Decentralised Renewable Energy Initiatives in Sierra Leone, several mini - hydro plants are being assessed or are under development,with 6 MW mini - hydro dams already in operation in the Kenema district. Following the successful installation of 13 solar PV mini- grids in 2013, Sunlabob was working to install solar system in 179 hospitals, health posts, schools and banks. In May 2016, Sierra Leone central government launched an Energy Revolution to enable 50,000 households to access clean solar solutions by 2017, and enable power for all by 2025.

A new Renewable Energy Association of Sierra Leone ( REASL) has been established to represent private sector in decision- making processes with 15 private sector members already. REASL was now in operation and taking active role in decision - making processes.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Thursday 27 September 2018 in New York, America, Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio disclosed that the country needs 60 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Power for All, a global campaign to accelerate the development of distributed renewable energy solutions, from basic solar lanterns to rooftop systems and renewable mini - grids, was launched in Sierra Leone on the 10th of May 2016 and has beer working with the central government, private sector,civilian society and the media.

On the 21st of September 2016 in Freetown, I was one of 25 journalists who participated in a workshop organised for the media in Sierra Leone by Power for All Campaign in Sierra Leone. The workshop was for journalists to learn about decentralised solar technologies and how they will to bring clean, modern energy services to millions of people across Sierra Leone. That workshop was facilitated by the Renewable Energy advisor to the president, Mr. Serry Kamal. Presentations were also made Dr. Kelleh Mansaray, Head of UNIDO in Sierra Leone on the global transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and Mr. Robin Mansaray, Director of Renewables in the country’s Ministry of Energy on the central government’s work to accelerate energy access by including decentralised renewables into the energy mix.
In a similar engagement on the 22 March 2017 in Freetown, I also attended the joint ’Call to Action ’ event organised by Power for All in Sierra Leone, where the central government through the Minister of Energy, civilian society and private sector made bold commitments to under take activities that will accelerate the growth of the decentralised renewable energy ( DARE) market that is vitamin to reach 6 million people living in energy poverty.

Pover for All Campaign Leader in Sierra Leone Aminata Dumbuya, said the Sierra Leone Energy Revolution has provided an important way to catalyse clean energy access in the country and it is fantastic to see the media get behind the initiative. By working together and raising awareness of the potential of decentralised renewables they can give communities across the country the vital opportunity to switch from expensive batteries, torches and generators to more affordable safer and cleaner power.