Sierra Leone blackouts cast doubt on power ships

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Sierra Leone has once more endured energy outages after Turkish firm Karpowership suspended its operations within the nation for a number of days over a $40m unpaid invoice.

Karpowership is the nation’s predominant supply of grid electrical energy, particularly in the course of the dry season when output from hydroelectric energy stations is decrease. The corporate first deployed a “energy ship” – a floating gas-fired energy station – in Sierra Leone in 2018, and added a second vessel the next yr. Below its newest five-year contract with the federal government, signed in 2020, Karpowership provides as much as 65 MW of electrical energy to the nation.

Nonetheless, the prices of procuring electrical energy from Karpowership have caught up with Sierra Leone and its Electrical energy Distribution and Provide Authority (EDSA), the state-owned utility. Energy outages have develop into more and more frequent since late 2021 as EDSA’s arrears have accrued.

A Karpowership spokesperson instructed African Enterprise that it “took the unlucky and tough resolution to briefly droop operations” in Sierra Leone, following a “protracted interval of non-payment”. The corporate mentioned it restarted operations on 15 September.

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Pricey tariffs

Though the precise phrases of Sierra Leone’s contract with Karpowership haven’t been publicly disclosed, the World Financial institution described the provision of electrical energy from the corporate as “expensive” in a report final yr. Noting that the acquisition worth of electrical energy from Karpowership is listed to international gas costs, which considerably elevated after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the World Financial institution has suggested Sierra Leone to put money into photo voltaic and hydropower era instead.

Nivedh Thaikoottathil, renewables and energy analyst at consulting agency Rystad Power, says that Sierra Leone’s $40m unpaid money owed mirror “the dearth of cost-reflective tariffs”, with authorities subsidies masking greater than half of Karpowership’s per-unit fees. The disaster within the nation highlights how African nations could be able of “vulnerability” to suppliers like Karpowership, Thaikoottathil provides.

Sierra Leone’s choices for settling its reported $40m invoice seem restricted within the brief time period, as a serious financial disaster continues to chew. Its foreign money, the leone, misplaced 37% of its worth in opposition to the US greenback between September 2022 and February 2023, whereas inflation is working at greater than 40%.

Karpowership operates in additional than 20 nations worldwide, together with Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Senegal. Thaikoottathil notes that the benefits of Karpowership stem from its capability to quickly present energy throughout an emergency scenario. “Energy ships could be operational inside 30 days of signing a contract, offering a quick, versatile, and dependable answer to vitality shortages,” he says.

Dispute in South Africa

However the firm’s growth in Africa has not been fully plain crusing. Particularly, Karpowership’s entry into South Africa has been delayed by a long-running dispute over its impression on the atmosphere, in addition to questions over the burden it could place on the financial system if used as a long-term answer.

The corporate was chosen as a most well-liked bidder for a 20-year contract to produce electrical energy from three floating energy crops in March 2021, however was initially denied environmental permits on the grounds that it did not correctly consider and disclose possible impacts.

Karpowership was given permission to re-submit its environmental impression assessments, prompting virtually two years of authorized back-and-forth with NGOs and teams representing the small-scale fishing business. Public statements from ANC ministers point out they proceed to favour awarding contracts to the corporate, though the regulatory approval course of stays ongoing.

NGOs opposing Karpowership’s contract have seized on the disaster in Sierra Leone to strengthen their argument in opposition to procuring electrical energy from the corporate. “We consider that Karpowerships shall be too costly for a rustic like ours, whose financial system has been severely weakened by poor governance, corruption, and mismanagement,” mentioned Neville van Rooy, group outreach coordinator on the Inexperienced Connection, in an announcement final week.

The 20-year time period of the proposed contract with the South African authorities is especially contentious, on condition that that it could lock the nation into buying fossil gas generated energy for an prolonged interval. In August, the corporate provided to scale back the contract to 5 years, though that is more likely to entail the next unit price of electrical energy.

Karpowership instructed African Enterprise that its three tasks “have been a number of the best amongst the 11 most well-liked bidders” within the tender course of that concluded in 2021. “We consider that our gasoline to energy tasks will make an vital contribution to combatting South Africa’s vitality disaster, and serving to to supply steady, cleaner, dependable electrical energy provide to the companies and communities that so urgently want it,” the spokesperson mentioned.

However Thaikoottathil estimates that the price of electrical energy from Karpowership would between 2.5 and 4 instances higher than from new mixed cycle as energy crops or wind or photo voltaic farms.

“What is going on in Sierra Leone is simply one other instance illustrating why that is one other unhealthy vitality concept from our authorities,” mentioned van Rooy. “Along with the loadshedding disaster and the rising price of all the things, South Africa can not afford to go down the identical path.”


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