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Goal in sight: 561MW by 2017

Article - August 5, 2014
The goal for the national power producer and supplier, SEGESA, is to ensure more than adequate levels of supply for consumers so as to eventually be able to export electricity to neighboring countries. The country is also in the process of retiring 90% of its dated oil-fired plants by the year 2020
EQUATORIAL GUINEA
When discussing the ways that Africa’s vast natural resources have been mishandled or under-utilized, the electrical power essential for the continent’s economic development is not always taken sufficiently into account. But it is precisely for that reason that in Equatorial Guinea, an adequate and reliable power supply, along with the ability to deliver it to where it is needed, has risen to the top tier on the list of the government’s strategic priorities. This, in turn, has led to some changes in institutional structure and mindset at SEGESA, the country’s electrical power monopoly.

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that all our people receive all the electricity they need, whenever they need it and to produce a surplus for export purposes,” explains Manuel Ntutumu, former General Manager of SEGESA. “We are working closely with the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Industry to ensure that our sector complies with all the statutory requisites as it goes about fulfilling our duty to the people.”

Generating and transmitting this new electrical supply required over a decade of intensive infrastructure work and investment of nearly $2 billion, but Mr. Ntutumu is proud to have finally caught up with the surge in demand that has been growing by an annual 3.6% since 2001, the year of SEGESA’s incorporation as a strategic government monopoly.

“I would not hesitate to state that at the present time, every single citizen of this country can access an adequate supply of electricity,” says Mr. Ntutumu. “Not long ago, we were still having some issues, but broadly speaking, the nation’s electrical utility has made good on its pledge that citizens should be able to receive the quality of service they demand.”

The electrification of Equatorial Guinea moved into high gear in 2007, when the country’s 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves began to be systematically exploited for export purposes.

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There is sufficient declivity in the Wele’s 210-mile path to the Atlantic to justify construction of eight more highly efficient gravity dams – with the one at Sendje already nearing completion.
Mr. Ntutumu points out that to carry out its mission, SEGESA has been split into three units that remain under the general supervision and coordination of a central authority.

“It’s quite the usual thing nowadays to take a corporation’s principal functions – in this instance, generating power, transmitting it and marketing it – and make them operationally independent of one another. This is just what we did in 2013 and so far it is working out very well,” he says.

Only a few years ago, the entire country depended on a single turbo-gas installation near Malabo that sputtered out 15 MW of energy. Now, following extensive upgrades, the output is up significantly, but exact figures for energy production tend to be wildly contradictory, ranging anywhere from 15MW to 130 MW. The government is confident that once the turbines at the Sendje dam are turning, total output will shoot up to 561 MW by the end of 2017.

Distribution is via two independent grids. One covers the island of Bioko, serving the capital and Luba, the country’s oil export terminal. A separate network connects population centers located on the continental mainland, which is where the generating stations on the Wele River at Djibloho (120 MW), and Sendje (expected to come online shortly) can be found.

Plans have also been drawn up to connect the two grids by underwater cable between Malabo and Bata.

The electrification of Equatorial Guinea moved into high gear in 2007, when the country’s 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves began to be systematically exploited for export purposes. A fraction of what had once been an unwanted by-product of petroleum extraction was earmarked for gas-fired plants designed to replace those relying on less efficient petroleum derivatives. As a result, the government is on track to meeting its goal of retiring 90% of its ageing, spare parts-hungry oil-fired plants by the year 2020.

But the country’s path to a high-powered future depends on another natural resource. An ample majority of power plants that have come on line since 2003 rely wholly or in part on hydroelectric power, with major input from the Djibloho dam on the Wele River. Zigzagging across the mainland regions of Equatorial Guinea, there is sufficient declivity in the Wele’s 210-mile path to the Atlantic to justify construction of eight more highly efficient gravity dams – with the one at Sendje already nearing completion. Suddenly, prospects for becoming a net energy exporter to neighbors such as Gabon, Nigeria and Cameroon are looking very interesting.

The government has also ordered viability studies focusing on wind and solar power installations on the offshore islands of Annobon – which has a population of 21,000 – and Corisco, where no significant hydro resources are available.

Ever since its designation as a government monopoly, SEGESA has retained its mixed capital structure, with the government currently holding a 68% stake, and the remainder in the hands of a consortium of Madrid-based investors. Mr. Ntutumu was asked if there were plans afoot or possibilities opening up suggesting that this situation might in some way change.

He answered very decidedly that “privatization is simply not on the table, at least not at the present time”, but was quick to add that “we plan to seek agreements with other players in the sector and look for potential new markets that we hope will lead to joint ventures or other types of collaborative effort.”

As an indicator of the government’s receptiveness to the idea of foreign development partners, he points out that several U.S. firms and interests have taken advantage of recent regulatory relaxations by the Malabo authorities aimed at streamlining the administrative procedures that accompany foreign investment.

“We have been working shoulder to shoulder with the Americans on a number of our more recent projects and relations couldn’t be better,” says Mr. Ntutumu. “It helps that their government and ours seem to be getting along.”

Administrative bottlenecks still exist, however. Getting plugged into the grid requires endless inspections, authorizations and certifications by technical experts at different stages of the installation process. The non-residential consumer must obtain – and pay for – transformers and other external gear, and the whole procedure can take months.

Still, it is hard to imagine that a country where only a few short years ago, power supply was at best unreliable and at worst non-existent has now become one where, earlier this year, the Minister of Mines had to order a crackdown on customers who are slow in paying their utility bills. “Whoever disagrees, they should disconnect their air conditioners; but from now on, everyone should pay for what they consume,” ordered the Minister, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima.

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