SPECIAL REPORT: South Sudan’s long walk to bridging power gap

SPECIAL REPORT: South Sudan’s long walk to bridging power gap
Engineers working on a power transmission line in Juba. [Photo: Keji Janefer, City Review]

Ethiopia’s plans to export electric power to South Sudan as part of an electrical interconnection project between the two countries open a lid on power, a critical ingredient in industrial growth in Africa’s youngest nation.

On February 20, 2022, celebrations rocked Guba, Ethiopia during the first power generation ceremony at the site of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam – GERD.

As the dispute over the giant hydroelectric dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile River continues to linger, Addis Ababa has unveiled plans to export electric power to South Sudan as part of an electrical interconnection project between the two countries.

According to multiple sources, Addis Ababa is to start exporting 100 megawatts (MW) of electric power to South Sudan in the first phase of the project and gradually increase it to 400 MW over the next three years.

The announcement of the deal came on the sidelines of the signing May 5 of a memorandum of understanding between officials of the two countries regarding an electrical interconnection project, during an official visit by a delegation from South Sudan to Ethiopia.

South Sudanese Minister of Energy and Dams Peter Marcello said during his visit to Ethiopia that the memorandum signed by the two parties will help accelerate the process of establishing the necessary infrastructure to import electric power from Ethiopia.

“Electric power is the backbone of the economy. The energy that will be imported from Ethiopia will help his country swiftly implement its development projects,” South Sudanese Minister of Energy and Dams Peter Marcello said.

While Ethiopia and South Sudan are yet to announce the value of the electricity export deal, the result will be a power that is more affordable for both domestic and industrial or commercial use.

Owing to its undeveloped energy infrastructure, which has been severely harmed by decades of conflict, South Sudan has the lowest electricity consumption per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The government considers power generating and transmission infrastructure to be a top priority, yet obtaining the large amounts of capital required from both public and private sector financiers remains a major difficulty.

The country’s future electricity generation appears to be dominated by hydropower, which has a capacity of up to 2,100 megawatts (MW); however, proposed projects must be funded before progress can be achieved.

Owing to a lack of power output and an insufficient distribution network, barely 1 per cent of the country has access to grid electricity, according to 2013 figures. Although 4 per cent of metropolitan areas have power, they are subject to load shedding and forced power outages.

In the energy industry of South Sudan, there are numerous prospects for potential investors in both generation and transmission. Cabinet has approved the Electricity Bill 2015, which now requires Parliament’s approval.

Five large potential hydropower projects in South Sudan have bankable feasibility studies. Fula Rapids 42MW, Grand Fula 890MW, Shukolli 230MW, Lakki 410MW, and Bedden 570MW are the plants under question. The key issue is a lack of finance for some of these initiatives’ development.

In 2015, total electricity generation was 28 ktoe, with 92.8 per cent coming from fossil fuels and 7.1 per cent from hydropower. In 2015, total electricity consumption was 16 ktoe.

The overall consumption of 391.80 million kWh of electric energy per year is the most important metric in South Sudan’s energy balance. This equates to an average of 35 kWh per person.

South Sudan is capable of producing all of its electricity. The overall production of all-electric energy-producing facilities is 413 million kWh, which is also 105 per cent of the country’s own needs. The remaining self-produced energy is either exported or underutilized. Production, imports, and exports, in addition to pure consumption, have a major influence. Natural gas and crude oil are also employed as energy sources.

The current supply is insufficient, due to a lack of generation to satisfy demand, the distribution system’s marginal capacity to service new customers, and substantial distribution network losses. Supply constraints have resulted in forced blackouts and load shedding in Juba due to a shortage of generation capacity and inadequate distribution networks.

As a result, most households and companies rely on limited, expensive, and inconsistent captive power supply, affecting the quality of life, service delivery, and commercial development in and around Juba.

The major goal of the Juba Distribution System Rehabilitation and Expansion Project -Juba PDSRE Project is to strengthen the electricity distribution system’s supply capacity and reliability.

The project will result in efficient power evacuation from potential interventions planned for improved electrification of Juba city, reduced losses and increased network capacity to meet demand, network expansion to supply areas in Juba that currently lack electricity, development of income-generating activities and increased employment opportunities, and improvement in energy supply to public priority institutions such as hospitals and schools.

Also, connection to the grid will minimize the extensive usage of generators in city establishments, allowing for a more inexpensive energy supply and thereby contributing to South Sudan’s economic growth and poverty reduction.

Energy consumption in South Sudan

President Salva Kiir welcomed the improved facility and thanked the African Development Bank for its invaluable assistance to his country and noted “This project will spur development in the country where more than 70% of lighting relies on generators and others on kerosene”.

“The government is focused on exploiting and developing our hydro and renewable energy resources. With funding from the African Development Bank, we aim to generate 10-40 MW of renewable energy” Kiir affirmed his government’s commitment.

“The government also plans to invest in a 1,080 MW grand Fula hydropower project to generate and distribute power across various states in South Sudan, President Kiir said. 

The enhanced power distribution system will include a 145-kilometre medium-voltage transmission line and a 250-kilometre low-voltage transmission line with 145 new transformers. At least 20,000 consumers, both residential and business, will be linked.

South Sudan has the option of interconnecting with Sudan and other power-producing countries. The government is now importing roughly 40MW from Sudan to Renk County, which is part of Upper Nile State. Once peace and stability have returned to the area, plans are being made to expand the power to other parts of the state.

South Sudan’s authorities announced on July 23, 2019, that it would import energy from Uganda and Ethiopia after concluding bilateral agreements with both nations.

Former Minister of Electricity and Dams Deu Mathok disclosed this to the media. He stated that South Sudan had struck an agreement with Uganda to connect the border towns of Kaya, Nimule, and Kajo Keji, but a proposal to transmit electricity from Uganda’s 600 MW Karuma dam has yet to bear fruit.

“We signed the MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] and translated it into the bilateral agreement and we are now supposed to sign the power-purchase agreement because Uganda said that they will take responsibility for the costs but they will recover their money from the collection,” said Mathok.

In 2017, South Sudan and Ethiopia inked a new power and road link agreement. The electricity will be sent from Ethiopia to the Unity State border areas of Western Upper Nile, Jonglei, Akobo, and Pagak.

However, Addis Ababa announced plans to transfer electric electricity to South Sudan as part of an interconnection project between the two countries in mid-May 2022.

The was after officials from the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on May 5th during an official visit by a delegation from South Sudan, it was announced that Addis Ababa would begin exporting 100 megawatts (MW) of electric power to South Sudan in the first phase of the project and gradually increase it to 400 MW over the next three years.

South Sudan is seeking investors to build five large hydropower projects, according to former Minister of Electricity and Dams, Deu Mathok, who remarked to the media in 2017. Fula Rapids 42 MW, Grand Fula 890 MW, Shukolli 230 MW, Lakki 410 MW, and Bedden 570 MW are among them.

“We have a lot of potential in South Sudan in terms of energy, electricity and this idea of East Africa power pool which is being created by the East African countries will make us dominate this sector because in terms of hydro-power we are very advanced,” stressed Mathok.