- Destenie Nock
An extension of voices: 2nd SEN-Africa Workshop Hosted in Northern Ghana
Updated: Aug 21, 2019
A second workshop was hosted by SEN-Africa in the Northern region of Ghana to expand the voices and perspectives included in the stakeholder workshop.
August 17, 2019
By Destenie Nock
What happens when you gather electricity stakeholders from power companies, the utility, NGOs, government, the community, and academia in the Northern region of Ghana? Today I found out the answer to this question at the second electricity stakeholder workshop hosted by the Sustainable Electricity-access network for Africa (SEN-Africa) at the University of Development Studies in Tamale. The short answer is that you have richer discussions on the challenges and needs facing power system development. For the long answer please read on...
The purpose of the electricity stakeholder workshop was to engage people from multiple stakeholder groups throughout Ghana to get a sense of their perspective of the status of the Ghanaian electricity system, challenges facing power system planning, and needs for the country moving forward. Additionally the researchers hoped to get a sense of the preferences, in terms of the importance, for the different facets of electricity access, and the trade-offs these stakeholder would make between those facets.
In Tamale 20 stakeholders gathered to discuss energy transitions at the University of Development Studies Conference Center. One of the concerns, raised by a community leader was the cost of electricity, and the tariff structure (i.e. electricity pricing scheme). In Ghana the government subsides the first few units of electricity, but once you move into the medium and high level use-rates you have to pay the full amount with no subsidy. This leads to a non-linear payment scheme. Below is an example of the issue:
Imagine you pay electricity on a prepaid monthly basis. The government has a pricing scheme where low consumers (0 - 51 units of electricity) pay $1/unit, and medium consumers (51-300 units) pay $2/unit.
In the beginning of the month you buy 30 units of electricity and pay $30. You run out of electricity before the month is over so you go back to the store to by 30 more units of electricity to finish out the month. The additional 30 units will put you over the edge and into the medium level bracket. So now the system charges you $60. You feel cheated because you feel it should be the same as what you paid before.
Following a similar explanation during the workshop one of the community leaders expressed that community-based workshops should be held to explain this pricing structure to the residents, so people can know what they are paying for. In addition to the need for greater understanding of electricity prices, other participants also called for greater protections against electricity thefts, so that people with illegal connections do not steal their prepaid electricity. These protections could come in the form of smart meters and autonomous monitoring.
The discussion quickly moved from education and user costs to economic activity and jobs. Many of the stakeholders felt that presently there was a large amount of emphasis placed on household lighting, but not enough on productive uses of electricity. This leads to electricity being a cost instead of an income generator. To support the community and stimulate economic activity the participants suggested the country now focus on using electricity to change the way of life for the residents. This could include using electricity to grind maize (one of the staple foods of Ghana), to cook in homes, and pump water to fuel irrigation systems. This concern was also expressed in the Southern Workshop held earlier in the week.
After the workshop the SEN-Africa Team headed to the Navrongo Solar Farm to discuss electricity challenges with some power plant operators. Here we discussed challenges relating to renewable integration, and the need for energy storage along with a diverse set of generation technologies. Solar power presents a great opportunity for Ghana to fuel its electricity system with low cost, carbon free electricity generation. The challenge with solar is that the energy output is variable and only during the day, when many businesses operate at night.
For future work the team is planning to compile a white paper detailing their results, and also provide more information regarding the stakeholder engagement workshops. Thank you for reading!
Note about the SEN-Africa Team: The Sustainable Energy-Access Network for Africa is made up of researchers from the University of Ghana, University of Nairobi, University of Cape Town, University of Massachusetts, Argonne National Lab, and Carnegie Mellon University. The aim of the team is to create more holistic research that is stakeholder driven and investigates how to improve electricity systems and access throughout the continent. More can be found on their website at sen-africa.org
Note about the Author: Dr. Destenie Nock is a post doc and incoming professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the Engineering & Public Policy and Civil & Environmental Departments. Her work specializes in electricity modeling, and sustainability in the USA and Africa. Specifically she hopes that through her work there can be a greater exchange of knowledge and understanding of ways to improve the electricity sector. Specifically she hopes that her work can paint a more holistic and inclusive view of how to improve the sustainability of electricity systems.
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