African states sign $1.2bn power interconnection deal

An important step towards an African electricity grid was taken this week when the governments of Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania signed a memorandum of understanding for a $1.2bn project to connect the eastern and southern African electricity systems.

The project will involve putting up more than 1,600km of power transmission lines to link the three countries.

The deal would "alleviate power outages and also generate revenue from the export of electricity among the countries", said Christopher Yaluma, Zambia’s minister of mines, energy and water, in an interview with the Zambia Daily Mail.

In Zambia (pictured) less than 19% of the population currently has access to electricity.

Work is scheduled to begin at the end of 2015 and is expected to be completed by December 2018.

A Tanzanian official admitted, however, that the country was unable to fund a truly national grid itself.

"There is no way we can use national budget funds to invest in energy because our economies will collapse," said Sospeter Muhongo, Tanzania’s minister of energy and minerals, at the signing ceremony. "We need the private sector."

Muhongo said Africa as a whole required between $300bn and $500bn to create a truly continental grid.

Present at the signing on 15 December in Livingstone, Zambia were a number of potential players in Africa’s future electrification, including the EU, the Norwegian Fund, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the China Development Bank.

The project will connect the electricity systems of 12 countries in southern Africa with 10 countries in eastern Africa, although the impact will, for the moment, be more symbolic than practical.

The southern power pool, founded in 1995, is the most sophisticated in Africa. But even this area still requires a great deal of further construction.

A project to create better connections between Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe (the MoZiSa scheme) has been postponed, and in October was begun again at the expression of interest stage.

As with Ethiopia in the north, Zambia has made electricity generation and export a cornerstone of its development plans.

It is in negotiation with Mozambique to construct a 400kV interconnector line, and is aiming to increase its installed generation capacity to about 4GW, which will largely be achieved by the 1.6GW Batoka Gorge hydro power project on the River Zambezi.

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