• Currently, electricity surplus in the region stands at 878MW, with only Tanzania and Rwanda experiencing a deficit. The surplus power is projected to hit 3,430MW by 2025.
  • Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda are now stuck with excess capacity that could see the countries incur heavy financial burden.
  • Apart from national priorities, the investments in power generation were driven by the understanding that the region will be a single power market interconnected through the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP).

'Too much of something is poison’ is what may best describe East Africa’s situation at the moment.

Over the past decade, East African countries have sunk billions in multibillion-dollar investments building power plant stations to power the region which for years had been engulfed in darkness.

While the idea was noble, the power games have come with a price.

President Uhuru Kenyatta switches on electricity at the house of a local during the launch of last mile connectivity project  (mygov.)
President Uhuru Kenyatta switches on electricity at the house of a local during the launch of last mile connectivity project (mygov.)

Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda are now stuck with excess capacity that could see the countries incur heavy financial burden.

Currently, electricity surplus in the region stands at 878MW, with only Tanzania and Rwanda experiencing a deficit. The surplus power is projected to hit 3,430MW by 2025.

The region had a noble plan setting up these power plants and so the exercise was not in futility, something, however, along the way seems to have gone amiss.

Eastern Africa Power Pool (manmonthly)
Eastern Africa Power Pool (manmonthly)

Apart from national priorities, the investments in power generation were driven by the understanding that the region will be a single power market interconnected through the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP).

The EAPP would then connect with the Southern and West African markets, effectively transforming Africa into an integrated power trade market.

Once complete what was once described as the ‘dark continent’ was supposed to light up to high heavens, the picture on paper looked rosy even to the blind.

The Nile River Basin spreads across countries in East Africa, which constitute an institution called the Eastern African Power Pool (EAPP). (Nature)
The Nile River Basin spreads across countries in East Africa, which constitute an institution called the Eastern African Power Pool (EAPP). (Nature)

An analysis by the US government-led Power Africa Initiative, for instance, indicated that Ethiopia, whose installed capacity stands at 4,206MW against a demand of 3,700MW, has the potential to earn over $200 million in power exports to Tanzania over the next four years.

Tanzania, currently experiencing a deficit of 485MW, on its part could save up to $500 million by substituting its expensive emergency power with cheap imported electricity.

The Uganda-Rwanda line, the study notes, would save Rwanda $1.3 million to $2 million per month — money being spent on diesel generation — in 2019-2020. Rwanda currently experiences a deficit of 13MW.

A farmer naps in a barley field next to an electricity power plant at Ashegoda farm near a village in Mekelle, Tigray, 780 km (485 miles) north of Addis Ababa.
A farmer naps in a barley field next to an electricity power plant at Ashegoda farm near a village in Mekelle, Tigray, 780 km (485 miles) north of Addis Ababa.

The savings represent about 15 per cent of the Rwandan utility’s monthly spend on energy.

Trouble, however, started when the regional project was hit by delays leading to fears that countries could suffer heavy financial burden servicing electricity generation plants that cannot produce to full capacity.

Experts say that failure to accelerate regional interconnection to facilitate the power trade puts countries with excess power in a precarious situation due to charges that come with idle capacity.

“It is unfortunate that consumers are unable to utilise all the electricity produced because sectors like manufacturing have not expanded in tandem with generation,” said Lamarck Oyath, managing director of renewable solutions firm Lartech Africa.

A general view shows a cross-section of the Karuma 600 megawatts hydroelectric power project under construction on River Nile, Uganda February 21, 2018.
A general view shows a cross-section of the Karuma 600 megawatts hydroelectric power project under construction on River Nile, Uganda February 21, 2018.

Key projects that were expected to anchor electricity trade, particularly the Ethiopia-Kenya-Tanzania high-voltage lines, are behind schedule, which has denied countries with excess capacity the opportunity to trade in power and those with deficits to bridge the gap.

In Kenya, for example, the World Bank declined to guarantee the 310MW Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) due to the country’s weak grid, delays in completing the transmission line to evacuate the power, and concerns over the country’s ability to absorb all the power.

Now, LTWP has admitted that the wind farm in Turkana County in the north cannot generate optimally, with maximum generation capacity set at 65 per cent, yet Kenyan taxpayers had to pay a fine of $52.5 million after the government failed to complete the transmission line.

An aerial view of the power substation at the Lake Turkana Wind Power project (LTWP) in Loiyangalani district, Marsabit County.
An aerial view of the power substation at the Lake Turkana Wind Power project (LTWP) in Loiyangalani district, Marsabit County.

In Kenya, power generation capacity stands at 2,250MW, against a demand of 1,640MW.

Uganda has since joined the list of countries with excess power following the commissioning of the 183MW Isimba hydropower dam, which pushed the country’s power generation capacity to 1,167MW, way above a peak demand of about 600MW.

Ethiopia and Kenya will have excess capacity, reaching as high as 1,900MW for Addis, when ongoing projects start generation.

Power lines connecting pylons of high-tension electricity are seen from the power substation at the Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Loiyangalani district, Marsabit County.
Power lines connecting pylons of high-tension electricity are seen from the power substation at the Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Loiyangalani district, Marsabit County.

Rwanda and Tanzania will also have peak surplus when ongoing projects come on-stream.

Overall, East Africa’s peak supply that stood at about 7,800MW last year is expected to grow to about 17,800MW by 2025, with a peak demand of about 7,000MW growing to about 14,400MW.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on energy at Ubungo Power Plant in Dar es Salaam July 2, 2013.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on energy at Ubungo Power Plant in Dar es Salaam July 2, 2013.

Moving forward, power experts are now only strictly funding priority transmission lines to avoid this power paradox.

Power Africa Initiative, a US Government-led partnership coordinated by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is now working to mobilise at least $3 billion to help finance priority transmission lines to facilitate electricity trade in Africa.

“Unused power generation facilities result in lost opportunities and lost revenues for governments,” notes the Power Africa Transmission Report.