From Kenya to Tanzania, from Uganda to Ethiopia, the familiar sound of petrol and diesel generators is about to disappear from the daily lives of millions of Africans. These East Africa countries have faced regular major power cuts since the early 2000s. But this is about to change; inhabitants of these countries are on the verge of switching them off for good, with the upcoming commissioning of a power transmission line to interconnect Kenya and Ethiopia. This line is scheduled to enter its operational phase in the course of 2019, providing an uninterrupted supply of electricity for all.
Inaugurated in 2012, this project falls under one of the African Development Bank’s High 5 priorities – to Light up and Power Africa. Working with institutional partners, the Bank has mobilized resources to ensure the success of this project. At a cost of $1.26 billion, the project was co-funded by the African Development Bank ($338 million), the World Bank ($684 million), the Government of Kenya ($88 million) and the Government of Ethiopia ($32 million).
The interconnection will be by means of a 1068-kilometre, 500 kilovolt high-voltage direct current transmission line, 437 km in Ethiopia and 631 km in Kenya with related facilities at Wolayta-Sodo (Ethiopia) and Suswa (Kenya). By December 2020, it will have a transmission capacity of 2000 megawatts. This will make Ethiopia the energy giant of East Africa, while Kenya will become the epicentre of electricity trading in this part of the continent.
“This project will create opportunities for trading electricity between Ethiopia and Kenya and in the East Africa region, by improving access to electricity at affordable prices and by strengthening cross-border trade,” said Gabriel Negatu in 2014, speaking as the then Director of the African Development Bank Regional Resource Center. “It will also provide countries with spare generating capacity, such as Ethiopia, with a real opportunity to generate revenue,” he added.
New life breathed into Ethiopia
Ethiopia, with its production capacity of 45,000 megawatts (MW), has sufficient energy potential to power the entire continent. However, the country has suffered from ageing or poorly-maintained equipment, hurting small businesses that depended on a constant power supply and providing grounds for the boom in generator sales throughout the country.
The commissioning of the interconnection with Kenya will enable Ethiopia to purchase new equipment and exploit part of its potential. While the Ethiopian Government is aiming for a hydroelectric capacity of 17,000 MW by 2020, thanks to the interconnection project, it could achieve a capacity of 40,000 MW by 2025, using the waters of the Nile.
In 2017, through the African Development Fund, the Bank granted $97.79 million in funding to Ethiopia for the renovation of its power grid and the improvement of its power transmission system. This amounts to 545 km of medium-voltage lines with 582 distribution transformers and 14 primary substations to be installed. The project is due for completion in 2023.
Households in Kenya continue to struggle to have a continuous supply of electricity throughout the day. Although Kenya is a champion of geothermal power in Africa, production is not enough to ensure its self-sufficiency. Its installed generation capacity is 2370 MW, while peak demand is approximately 1770 MW. This means that it will find this interconnection project particularly beneficial.
“The project will initially be able to transfer 400 MW from Ethiopia to Kenya, but negotiations are under way to better match the capacity of the line to Kenyan demand,” said Joseph Njogore, first secretary at the Kenyan Ministry of Energy, at an energy forum held in Nairobi in August 2018.