Lighting up rural Sierra Leone – is this yet another unfulfilled promise?

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 December 2016

Less than 12% of households in Sierra Leone have access to electricity supply, and even less so among the country’s rural poor.

But this week’s announcement by the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID – also known as ‘UK Aid’) to help 500,000 people in rural communities get powered up, could be a possible light at the end of a dark tunnel, after decade of unfulfilled promises by the government of Sierra Leone.

If successfully delivered, the Ministry of Energy’s Rural Renewable Energy Project, funded by UK Aid, will harness the power of solar energy to tackle energy poverty in rural communities across the country.

The total cost of this massive electrification project is not clear. But estimate suggests a capital requirement of about $100 million to make any serious impact on Sierra Leone’s rural communities.

But there have been similar big announcements of the development of solar electricity in Sierra Leone that never took off. For example, on the 30th of June 2014, the Koroma government was awarded $18 million dollars by the United Arab Emirates to develop a large-scale solar park in the capital Freetown.

Two years on, there is no money and there is no solar park. Yet this week, there is another promise – another signed agreement for another solar project. Is this just another empty promise?

kaifala-marah-signing-freetown-solar-deal2According to the statement published by UNOPS this week, half a million people over the next four years will benefit from at least 90 mini-grids powered with renewable energy.

Initially, 50 communities will be electrified in 2017, using mini-grids that will be operated by local entrepreneurs. (Photo: Former finance minister Marah signing the agreement on 30th June 2014 for a solar park in Freetown that never took off. What happened to the $18 million funding?)

Sierra Leone’s Minister of Energy, the United Kingdom Government’s Department for International Development (DFID – also known as ‘UK Aid’) and UNOPS gathered at the first steering committee meeting yesterday to launch the Rural Renewable Energy Project.

“Off-grid renewable energy is the future for countries like Sierra Leone,” said Ambassador Henry Macauley, Minister of Energy, at the launch of the country’s largest decentralized renewable energy project, funded by UK Aid, aid from the British people, in cooperation with UNOPS.

“Our country suffered greatly during the Ebola crisis,” Ambassador Macauley continued. “This project will increase accessibility to renewable electricity services and enhance economic growth in underserved rural communities. It will also allow us to better respond to future health emergencies by providing much needed electricity to community health centres, paving the way to universal access to basic services.”

During Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak, the lack of reliable power generation was a major obstacle to the country’s ability to both deal with and quickly recover from the emergency.

Speaking at the event, Guy Warrington, British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, said: “The UK Government launched an ambitious Energy Africa campaign in 2015. This aims to help Africa achieve universal energy access by 2030.”

solar-farm2“Sierra Leone can be proud that it was the first country to sign an Energy Africa compact with the UK establishing our common goals,” he continued. “Improving access to energy is also a key Presidential Recovery Priority. I am delighted that UK Aid is able today to pledge £34.5 million to improve rural electrification in support of the Government of Sierra Leone’s efforts to improve energy access for rural communities as part of our £240 million commitment to the recovery.”

Un-electrified, mainly rural areas of Sierra Leone usually have poor energy services, and primarily use small diesel or petrol generators and kerosene lamps. These cost 10 to 30 times more than in urban areas, which benefit from grid connection and tariffs that are often subsidized.

women learning to sewFor a comparable energy supply that costs an urban customer US$1, a rural customer will pay US$10 or more.

As mini-grid generation technologies become progressively cheaper – resulting in lower start-up, operation and management costs – they can significantly reduce the amount people have to spend on energy.

“UNOPS is excited to assist the Ministry of Energy with developing such an ambitious and challenging project all over the country,” said Ary Bobrow, UNOPS Director. “We are looking forward to the positive impact that electricity will bring to rural communities in terms of economic development, health, education, empowerment of women and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Besides providing a source of power, the project will help bridge economic divides between the country’s urban and rural areas.”

Working with the Ministry of Energy, UNOPS will assist the regulator and the private sector with developing adequate business models to sustainably operate and maintain the mini-gird infrastructure.

Project details

UNOPS is implementing the Rural Renewable Energy Project in cooperation with the Republic of Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Energy and with funding from UK Aid. The overall goal of the project is to improve rural renewable energy access through private sector involvement.

The project will provide sustainable technical and financial solutions for delivering electricity to community healthcare centres and developing mini-grids in villages. It will also provide the technical assistance required to support the sustainable development of this off-grid renewable energy initiative.

The four-year project will see the installation of at least 50 solar photovoltaic systems in communities throughout the country in 2017.

The project will use an integrated approach to enhance energy security, support business start-ups, reduce local pollution and improve the livelihoods and living conditions of local communities – with special attention to vulnerable groups, including women and young people.

As a result of this Ministry of Energy-led project, approximately 100,000 people in rural Sierra Leone will be connected to electricity, with a further 480,000 people indirectly benefiting from access to low-carbon electricity. This UK Aid-funded project will benefit more than half a million Sierra Leoneans living in remote and rural areas, providing them with universal access to electricity.

About UNOPS

UNOPS mission is to help people build better lives and countries achieve sustainable development. Our vision is a world where people can live full lives supported by appropriate, sustainable and resilient infrastructure and by the efficient, transparent use of public resources in procurement and project management.

https://www.unops.org/

About DFID

The Department for International Development (DFID), known as ‘UK Aid,’ leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty, building a safer, healthier, more prosperous world for all of us, which is firmly in the UK’s national interest. We’re ending the need for aid by creating jobs, unlocking the potential of girls and women and helping to save lives when humanitarian emergencies hit. For more information about DFID,

visit:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-international-development/about

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