Other Reasons for Freetown Blackouts

21 September 2006 at 03:12 | 949 views

Adrian Q. Labor, Civil Engineer

Corruption cannot account for the future

Almost every conversation among ourselves on the blackout issues and low energy supply in the country generally concludes with the word "corruption". This one word seems to explain it all. In actual fact, it never really gets us to look seriously at the other reasons. Just saying the word, sounds the bell for endless anecdotes on how corruption came, it stayed; it conquered and enslaved three generations of Sierra Leoneans. No doubt, it is part of the reasons why we had low energy supply in the past and have blackouts today. However, it cannot be the reason why we cannot have an improved energy situation in the future. Let us explore the other reasons why there are blackouts in Freetown and low energy production in general in Sierra Leone. These other reasons must be understood by the today’s youth, the current generation of professionals and business persons and the aging incumbent local and national leaders. Only then do we stand a chance to understand suggestions on how to achieve energy for our country’s development.

Reason 1: The 80-20 Energy Use Profile

To illustrate this reason, imagine there are only 100 people within Sierra Leone. Then, 80 of them are only interested in fuelwood and charcoal for cooking and craft work. The remaining 20 of them are interested in imported fuel for cooking, lighting and generating electricity for work, business and manufacturing. This has been the general pattern of our energy use since the early 70s.

The 2004 census shows that it has not changed but shifted in such a way that most of the 80 people and half of the 20 are now more than ever interested in fuelwood and charcoal for cooking and traditional activities. 15 out of the 20 people are also interested in kerosene (one of the imported fuels) for light.

This energy profile dictates the following related problems. 1) the deforestations going on around westeran area, Bo, Kenema, Makeni etc; 2) the escalating prices of fuelwood; 3) the lack of demand for electricity supply for a the country as whole’ and 4) the low potential local revenue for large critical energy projects.

What’s funny about this is that it is happening in a country in which the total population only uses about half the woodfuels that can be possible got from the annual supply from our forest. In fact, Freetown only consumes in woodfuels only 10% of the yearly forest produce.

Direction. We have to envision major development activities that can collectively change this energy use profile to take advantage of efficient and modern choices.

Question. Do you think the current Poverty Reduction and Growth program can ?. If not, who within Sierra Leone thinks about macro development initiatives?

Reason 2: Blind Choice in Energy Sources

“Want Want nor get Get Get no want.” This summarizes the second reason. Our estimated yearly energy sources are

1) Annual woodfuel from our forest is 9 -15 millions cubic meter.

a. we inefficiently consume only 4 million cubic meter in away to subject ourselves to ills of deforestation.

2) Hydropower from rivers - 1200MW;

a. we use only 4MW seasonally and still trying to get 25MW in 2007

3) Lignite Mines ( a type of coal) -

a. large portions but deemed inaccessible by a 1920 colonial study .

4) Offshore

a. unknown but explorations have occurred signaling likelihood.

5) Biomass for alcohols

a. we can easily produce from at least two of our largest food crops we produce, cassava and maize.

Given this choices, we have made a blind choice of over three generations on ONLY importing fuel oil and petroleum. To understand this blind choice, stare at the pie chart below from the Bank of Sierra Leone. Fuel has always been the largest import (45%).

What is all this amount of fuel for? It turns out that in general we burn 50% in transportation sector, 30% goes to NPA’s end-of-life and aging thermal-only power generation systems and 15% to manufacturing industry, 6% to agriculture and 7% to mining.

Here is one more fact on this blind choice. NPA has always ran at a loss, both technically and financially. It registered in 2001- 2003 an average system loss of 36%. Imagine the Fuel wasted!

When it comes to lighting up our homes, only 10% use NPA electricity (when it is available), 1% uses private generators and 85% uses kerosene for gas lamps, and the remaining 4% use other means (Candles etc) .

Question: What are the list of things to do to change this blind choice in our energy sources and our energy management?

Direction: We must have a comprehensive energy policy and implementation by today’s generation of professionals. We must invest in this direction for the next two generations. This energy awareness must reach the youths in school. Our political leadership must agree to stay this course at all times. A small non-partisan watch-dog group must be enacted to oversee all the relevant agencies collaborating on this energy policy direction.

Look out for more of the “Other” reasons in time for this activity


The Sierra Leone Energy Portal embarked on online pre-conference activities throughout the first half of 2006 as a precursor to a conventional conference on Sierra Leone’s future in hydro-power to be held in the second half of 2006 in Washington DC. Date to be determined.

The broad objectives are:

to keep the energy discussion focused till the Dam is completed and energy is generated from the Bumbuna Hydro power station.
to map the role of Sierra Leonean professionals at home and abroad in sustaining this new source of energy.
to outline new economic activities that will emerge as a result of this catayltic energy investment in Sierra Leone.

More Information at:

Energy Portal Sierra Leone - Http://SierraLeonePortal.Net/Energy

Main portal - Http://SierraLeonePortal.sl