The promised Solar park project in Sierra Leone failed to materialize: a retrospective of an ambitious project
The Republic of Sierra Leone is a country on the west coast of Africa, with the biggest natural harbor on the continent. It is a major producer of gold and also has some of the world’s largest deposits of bauxite and titanium, despite these deposits over 70% of the population live in poverty.
Sierra Leone currently generates approximately 130MW of electricity in their hydroelectric power stations and thermal power stations, the cost of which is hugely subsidized by the government. Due to transmission and distribution challenges access to electricity is very poor, only 13% of the country have access to electricity and in rural areas access is only 1%.
The government has stated that improving this is a major focus for them, particularly since the Ebola outbreak.
New Generation Power International, an American power producer has recently agreed to work with the government to install a Solar park capable of producing 20MW, in addition to this a further 200MW will be produced via a number of other schemes by 2018, including a hydroelectric plant capable of producing an additional 132MW by the spring of 2018.
Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma believes that this is a major step in achieving his ultimate aim of making his country capable of generating 1GM of clean energy by 2018. Ensuring this power can then be effectively distributed across the country, the project will include the creation of numerous micro-grids.
Additionally, significant developments within the thermal energy sector will be made and solar street lighting will also be rolled out.
New Generation Power International
New Generation Power international is an American owned independent international company based in Chicago that specializes in renewable energy including wind, solar, hydro, biomass and geothermal. In a world where demand for electricity continues to increase, they are committed to efficiently provide clean and reliable power across the world using locally appropriate technologies. Its portfolio includes projects across the Americas, Asia and Africa.
Solar project in Freetown
In July 2014 the Sierra Leone government announced that thanks to significant financial backing from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) as well as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) a new solar park capable of producing 6MW was going to be built in Freetown. It was intended to benefit the rural districts around Freetown as well as the city itself. The project was going to include a substation, distribution networks and a transmission line.
Whilst 6MW is only a small percentage of the 500MW required to fulfil the non-industrial needs of the population in Sierra Leone, it is capable of supplying over 3,000 homes with uninterrupted electricity which in a country like Sierra Leone can be the difference between life and death. On completion it would have been one of West Africa’s biggest solar parks.
A key element of the project was to ensure that the facility could be sustainably managed by local experts. This would be achieved by ensuring that the facility would not only adhered to international best practices but that they were appropriate for the socio-economic and geographic situation in Sierra Leone. This was intended to ensure the implementation of a very efficient sustainable source of renewable energy.
The minister of energy at the time said “This important project will place Sierra Leone on the global map of sustainable renewable energy and provide valuable knowledge transfer and necessary supporting infrastructure, and further strengthen the existing cordial relationship between the governments of Sierra Leone and the United Arab Emirates,”.
The Freetown Solar Park project costing over $18 million has however failed to materialize and as of the 11th March 2016, despite numerous requests to the government, including the Minister of Energy, no explanation has been given, it has just simply disappeared, as has the $18 million.
The failure to deliver the promised Solar park has contributed to the fact that Sierra Leone’s economy is still being completely crippled by the continued lack of electricity in the country.