12 June 2014

Ghana: Environmental Performance of Electricity Generation in Ghana

The use of electricity is indispensable in the modern day economic development in every country. Apart from land, labour and capital, energy is also considered as a critical factor of production.

There is no doubt that the "dumso", "dumso" we have been witnessing in Ghana would have adverse effects on businesses. Most offices, businesses and companies do not operate optimally as a result of the electricity challenges. That is why every single energy source should be considered to boost the country's electricity generation mix.

These various sources of electricity generation such as fossil fuel, renewable and nuclear energy sources are available with varying degree of advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, the choice of energy sources by a country is dependent on three main factors: Environmental performance, economic efficiency and security of supply.

Of course, if a country's energy policy is geared towards cheapest sources of electricity generation, then coal would be on the radar despite its poor environmental performance. However, if the policy is driven by environmental considerations, probable the renewable and nuclear sources would stand out.

However, if the country's energy policy is to spare the economic growth, combination of these factors may also influence a country's energy mix. Natural gas has been the "mid-fielder" in the energy industry. It has been described by experts as a transitional energy source between the use of the fossil fuel and clean energy sources. Ever since the Kyoto Protocol Convention on climate change was passed, the overriding consideration in the selection of an energy source is its potential to provide clean energy.

Clean energy is produced from sources that do not pollute the atmosphere when used. It is produced from renewable and nuclear energy sources in a way that do not release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, the industrialised countries have developed sub-conscious mind in fighting the climate change. They only talk about it when their economies are doing well.

Many developed nations still use the coal to generate electricity even though it is a worst culprit in carbon emissions. For example, South Africa has 93% of coal electricity generation, Poland has 87%, China has 79%, Australia has 78%, Kazakhstan 75%, India 65%, Israel 58%, Morocco 51% and USA generates 45% from the coal (IEA 2012). Fortunately, electricity sector in Ghana has minimal environmental impacts over the years. Ghana has made tremendous strides in producing clean power during the immediate post independence era.

Until late 2000, the electricity generation in Ghana was dominated by hydroelectric sources. Now about 56% of electricity in Ghana is generated from three main hydro sources. This comprises Akosombo Hydro Power Station (1,020MW), Kpong Hydro Power Station (160MW) and Bui Hydro Power Station (400MW). The hydro is one of the renewable energy sources that do not have direct carbon dioxide emissions record. It is worth mentioning that hydro sources produce near zero carbon emissions.

It is, therefore, environmental sound and eco-friendly source of energy. Hydropower is therefore an attractive energy source as it is renewable with minimal operational emissions of greenhouse gases. But the dominance of the hydroelectric power has been threatened due to climate change and its resultant erratic rainfall, hence the introduction of thermal sources of power at Aboadze to augment it.

The Rawlings' regime constructed the 550MW Aboadze thermal power plant in the year 2000, ending the one way generation of electricity in Ghana. The thermal sources of electricity generation are principally derived from gas and light crude oil. The two main dominance sources: hydro and thermal plants fired by gas, have efficient environmental performances. To end the perennial electricity crisis in Ghana, a number of strategic decisions have to be taken. First and foremost, the country has to go beyond the hydro and thermal sources.

The recent "clean coal technology" proposal in Ghana in the electricity sector should be given the needed impetus. Hence, the building of a 700MW coal-fired power plant in Ghana by Shenzhen Energy Group (SEG), the mother Company of Sonon Asogli is a step in the right direction. Furthermore, increasing the renewable electricity generation in the areas of solar and wind in Ghana will be strategic policy with environmental and long term benefits.

The proposed coming into the electricity sector by the Nzema Solar Project to construct 155 MW in Ghana (which is considered the largest in Africa) can also assist the country towards guaranteeing her security of supply. It is hoped that this will increase the mix for renewable energy from the current 1% to 6%. The Ministry of Energy and Petroleum has to be more proactive in the deployment of large scale renewable to feed into the national grid.

The practical challenge of the electricity generation from renewable sources is the huge initial capital expenditure requirement. However, the operating cost is always minimal. Notwithstanding these laudable proposals, the electricity prices in Ghana leave much to be desired. Pricing has been a big disincentive to the investment community in the sector. It costs 20 pesewas to generate one unit of electricity, but it is sold to the consumers for only 13 pesewas. The remaining 7 pesewas and the profit margin have been subsidised by the government. Only in Ghana!

However, the electricity from generator plants cost dearly to the business owners. This is a very major obstacle to the "independent power producers" who are key to the resolution of the electricity crisis. Also worthy of note is decentralization of the electricity generations in Ghana. Different locations in Ghana have different energy potentials. So having thermal electricity generation in the coastal areas sound plausible, since our natural gas sources are closed to those areas.

Keta basin with the presence of strong wind can also be exploited for the wind energy. However, the three northern regions have huge potential for solar energy. The government should, as a matter policy, support MMDCES to generate their own electricity from mini hydro dams and other renewable sources where they have comparative advantage.

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