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Power Africa: 10 biggest projects in 10 years

By Julian Pecquet, in Washington

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Posted on July 10, 2023 13:06

 © Scouts in Durban, south Africa learn about renewable energy and solar panels. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
Scouts in Durban, south Africa learn about renewable energy and solar panels. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

The US government’s massive gambit to electrify Africa started off with merely a flicker of light.

Launched by President Barack Obama in Cape Town during his tour of the continent in the summer of 2013, Power Africa’s $7bn promise to double electricity output in five years was soon beset with criticism that it was delivering many more megawatts on paper than in people’s homes. Today Africa still suffers disproportionately from energy poverty, with more than 570 million sub-Saharan Africans accounting for 75% of the world’s population without access to electricity.

Ten years on, however, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) tells The Africa Report that the programme works with more than 200 public and private partners to support projects generating 6,600MW of power to 172 million people in dozens of countries while helping avoid 7.7m tonnes of CO2 emissions.

“When Power Africa launched a decade ago, many people argued …  that in order to act fast, we needed to use the same technologies that we used to electrify the US back in the 1930s: burning coal and other fossil fuels that we have since learned pollute our air […],” USAID Administrator Samantha Power told the Africa Energy Forum in Nairobi last month. “Power Africa set out to prove that cynicism wrong. And boy has it.”

Power went on to announce a new $89m initiative to expand access to cleaner, reliable energy in East and Central Africa. The goal is to mobilise $4.7bn in public and private investment to develop 1,227MW of clean energy capacity and more than 900 miles of new transmission lines serving 50 million people.

Here are the 10 biggest Power Africa projects to date, in terms of cost:

1.Nachtigal hydropower project

Project cost: $1.428bn

Size: 420MW

Country: Cameroon

Start date: January 2017

Working in partnership with Cameroon’s Nachtigal Hydro Power Company (NHPC), Electricité de France (EDF) and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), Power Africa is developing a hydroelectric power station across the Sanaga River in southern Cameroon. The largest project of its kind in Central Africa, the dam is expected to boost national energy production by 30%. It is expected to begin producing power by the end of this year.

The hydroelectric facility consists of a power plant including seven 60 MW turbines, two concrete dams measuring 1.25 miles in total and a 2-mile long concrete-lined canal (46 feet deep on average) to conduct water to the hydroelectric power plant.

2. Lake Turkana Wind Power Project

Project cost: $1.095bn

Size:  310MW

Country: Kenya

Start date: January 2012

The Lake Turkana project is Africa’s largest wind power farm and the single largest private investment in Kenya’s history. It comprises 365 wind turbines, each with a capacity of 850KW, spread out over 40,000 acres in northwestern Kenya, south of Lake Turkana.

The project’s 310MW capacity – enough to supply one million homes – increased the country’s electricity supply by 13%. It was launched in 2019.

3. Kpone Independent Power Plant

Project cost: $900m

Size: 350MW

Country: Ghana

Start date: January 2014

This combined cycle gas turbine power station is located in the Kpone neighbourhood of the port city of Tema, 20 miles east of Accra. It is owned by CenPower Holdings, an independent company comprising local Ghanaian shareholders, along with the African Finance Corporation and InfraCo Limited. The plant began commercial operation in 2019.

4. Kaxu Solar One

Project cost: $891m

Size: 100MW

Country: South Africa

Start date: February 2013

This solar thermal plant located in the Northern Cape province of South Africa was developed by the Spanish company Abengoa and financed with help from South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation. Covering more than 2,700 acres, it is the first concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in South Africa to use parabolic trough technology. Its 1,200 parabolic assemblies heat a chemical liquid to produce energy.

The project is one of the 28 renewable energy projects announced by the South African Department of Energy in 2011. It was officially opened in March 2015.

5. Xina Solar One

Project cost: $880m

Size:  100MW

Country: South Africa

Start date: November 2014

Another CSP plant in the Northern Cape Province, Xina Solar One uses parabolic mirrors to concentrate sunlight to produce heat. That heat is used to melt salts that are processed through a heat exchanger to generate electricity for up to five hours after sunset, thereby supplying energy during peak hours for electricity demand and consumption. Xina Solar One was commercially commissioned in 2017.

6. Kathu Solar Park

Project cost: $830m

Size:  100MW

Country: South Africa

Start date: December 2014

Kathu Solar Park is a 100MW greenfield Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) project located in the Northern Cape Province that uses parabolic trough technology. It is equipped with a molten salt storage system that allows 4.5 hours of thermal energy storage, offsetting the intermittent nature of solar energy.

The plant began commercial operations in January 2019. It supplies power to around 180,000 households.

7. Yeleen Solar Power Development Project

Project cost: $786m

Size:  208MW

Country: Burkina Faso

Start date: January 2018

The Yeleen Solar Plants Development and National Power System Reinforcement Project is part of Burkina Faso’s 2025 “Yeleen” Solar Programme, which has three components: Developing photovoltaic plants connected to the national grid; increasing the electricity distribution network; and using mini-grids and individual solar systems for rural electrification.

The project aims to build four new 52MW photovoltaic plants and extend and increase power distribution networks in order to connect 30,000 new households or about 200,000 people. The project is estimated to take five years to complete and increase the country’s generation capacity by 15%.

8. Ilangalethu Karoshoek Solar One

Project cost: $735m

Size:  100MW

Country: South Africa

Start date: February 2014

This project in South Africa’s Northern Cape uses 360,000 parabolic mirrors to concentrate sunlight in order to heat water and drive a steam turbine to convert the energy into electricity. The solar farm is owned by a consortium of foreign and domestic independent power producers, local and international financiers, and other investors. The project’s commercial commissioning took place in November 2018.

9. Amandi Energy

Project cost: $552m

Size:  200MW

Country: Ghana

Start date: April 2013

The Amandi Power Plant project involved the construction of a 200MW combined cycle gas turbine, dual-fuel power project in the western region of Ghana on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, near the town of Aboadze.

The plant can be fuelled by light crude oil as the primary fuel and use natural gas when available. It began operating in July 2021. Africa-focused independent power generation company Endeavor Energy Holdings of Houston is the majority owner.

10. Olkaria V

Project cost: $490m

Size: 158MW

Country: Kenya

Start date: June 2015

The Olkaria V Geothermal Power Station is located in Hell’s Gate National Park, about 76 miles northwest of Nairobi, in the Great Rift Valley. The technology draws fluids from underground reservoirs to the surface to produce steam, which is used to drive turbines that generate electricity. The project is wholly owned by the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen). Commercial power production began in 2019.

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