Keeping the Lights on

An overview of Ghana’s Power Supply Dynamics.

In recent years, measurable progress has been made in the electricity sector. Authorities have occasionally touted that the frequent power outages (‘dumsor’) which used to be a challenge in the country had finally become a thing of the past. This energy crisis which once plagued the country in 2006, 2007, reaching its peak in 2015 and even as recent as 2017, necessitated power rationing exercises and resulted in a lot of socio-economic challenges. Experts at the time attributed the situation to an over reliance on the Akosombo dam resulting in the nation’s electricity demand outgrowing installed generation capacity.

The statistics show that from 2006 to 2016, electricity demand increased by over 50%. In a bid to address the energy challenges in the country, government secured a number of agreements with Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to close the gap between the growing demand and limited generation capacity. Since then, total installed generation capacity has more than doubled from 2006 to 2016, and according to the 2021 Electricity Supply Plan, generation capacity stands at 5212 MW. The dependable capacity stands at 4700 MW which far exceeds the peak load of around 3200MW. Despite the excess generation capacity, the country continues to face power cuts from time to time. This can be ascribed to a range of issues including fuel shortages, trips at power stations and grid system challenges.
The power generation mix is predominantly thermal, almost 66%, plus 33% hydro and the remainder being renewable (predominantly solar). Since the discovery of oil and gas in the country in 2007, the government has focused energy policies on promoting the transition from the more expensive liquid fuel to natural gas as fuel for thermal generators. Due to this effort, natural gas has become the choice fuel for thermal generation. Gas supply is currently obtained from 2 indigenous sources- Jubilee fields and the Sankofa fields: and imported gas from Nigeria.

Sankofa gas

Of the composite supply, Jubilee makes up for about 35%; Sankofa gas 53%, and the balance coming from Nigeria. Any upset that curtails supply from any of these upstream sources is likely to affect fuel supply to thermal generators, hence their output. An upstream challenge that affects domestic supply alone can curtail up to 85% of gas supply, which translates to a load loss of over 1600MW, about 50% of the nation’s peak demand.
The event of 27th February, 2021 gives a typical illustration.. According to a statement released by GRIDCO on the matter, gas supply challenges, emanating from the offshore fields led to loss of power supply on the grid, totaling about 1000 MW which led to power outages in major parts of the country- Accra, Tema and Kumasi. Power was only restored to the affected areas after the gas supply issues were resolved. A similar gas supply outage was experienced on the 24th March 2021 when a compressor challenge within the gas transmission system affected gas supply thus resulting in the loss of about 750 MW of power generation and power outage to many areas of the country. A valid concern with these developments is: ‘Were there no alternatives to restore the lost power on the national grid in order to sustain supply to consumers?’ Or have we become over reliant on gas to fuel our electrification?
With the only 2 domestic gas sources accounting for over 85% of the total gas demand, relying exclusively on gas to fuel thermal generators would make the power grid vulnerable to changes in gas supply circumstances. The supply portfolio needs to be diversified to make available alternative gas sources which can make up for lost volumes so that power generation is unaffected.

Tema LNG terminal project

LNG imports are set to commence in Q4 2021 via the Tema LNG terminal project. With this, the supply portfolio is expected to diversify which would improve stability of gas supply hence, power generation. LNG is projected to bring on stream a supply of 75 MMscfd minimum and up to 250 MMscfd at maximum capacity; about 70 % of the country’s gas demand. TEN gas, the other domestic field, which has mostly been used as substitution gas for Jubilee, can also provide a significant portion of the Jubilee supply in times of Jubilee gas outage as well as additional supply where required and operationally feasible.
Sufficient generation capacity and reliable fuel supply are equally essential elements in addressing Ghana’s electrification challenge. The country has made great strides vis-a-vis building generation capacity. With regards to fuel supply however, there appears to be a deficiency perhaps due to overreliance on natural gas.
Another issue that seems to have become a major bottleneck in recent times is the reliability of the Power transmission grid. An electricity network requires high voltage transmission lines to transmit power from generating stations to Bulk Supply Points (BSPs) for further distribution. On 7th March 2021, as communicated by GRIDCo, a challenge in the power system led to a total system shutdown resulting in a loss of power supply to all parts of the country. This problem was later found out to be due to a technical fault on a major transmission line between Prestea and Obuasi that led to overload on the adjacent transmission lines. These challenges would reoccur in the month of April at different parts of the power transmission grid leading to further outages.
To reinforce the grid and ensure stability of power supply; GRIDCo sort to expedite works on key transmission lines and distribution infrastructure. Key projects include the Kasoa and Pokuase Bulk Supply Point expansion projects under the Ghana Power Compact Programs which is funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. These projects, though positive and welcome, begs the question of why we allowed our power transmission system to get to this point before executing these key projects??. A yearly electricity supply plan, which is produced by a joint participation of players within the gas-to-power value chain, is published as part of efforts to identify limitations and challenges that would affect electricity supply. Many of these bottlenecks affecting the system currently had been identified in previous years. The question still remains that “Could these maintenance works not have been properly planned and scheduled to avert recent challenges and outages?

From all indications, it is clear that natural gas is undoubtedly a vital commodity for the success of the energy sector transformation agenda and for a developing country like Ghana a dependence on the fuel is expected. However, it is also known that every gas value chain is susceptible to upsets at different points within the chain. As is in every plant, 100% availability of upstream facilities is unfeasible: planned maintenance, trips, shutdowns account for periods of inability from suppliers, transport infrastructure operators and consumers. These periods of limited supply need to be accommodated when developing energy strategy. Measures must be put in place to restore lost gas supply as a failure to plan ahead and commitment to a ‘gas only’ operations would make the power grid unstable.
Gas utilization must be complemented by alternate fuels to ensure fuel security. Although liquid fuel is more expensive, it would serve the nation well if liquid fuel is made available as a standby fuel to address gas supply shortages that arise. Also, as a long-term option, the viability of using gas storage options such as underground reservoirs to smoothen out daily or periodic demand and supply can be explored. Renewables such as solar and wind power can also be explored to introduce alternative generation options.

Capital City of Ghana

Finally, as power demand continues to grow (an average of 8% per annum), it is requisite that the transmission grid capacity be constantly reviewed, and plans put in place to continuously expand the infrastructure to accommodate the demand growth. Strategic investment in this area is imperative to keep Ghana on its continued economic growth path.
According to the World Bank, electricity is the second most important constraint to business activities in Ghana. For the sustainable development of the country, energy policy must prioritize providing affordable, reliable, electricity for both residential and industrial use. Reliable power supply at competitive cost remains a major incentive to draw investors into the country for the advancement of the nation’s industrialization agenda.
Electrification in Ghana has come a long way; More strategic effort is needed to expand accessibility, reliability, and affordability of the energy resource to its citizens as well as investors.

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