Egypt’s lagging Transmission Upgrade Cramps the Gains of Electricity Generation

By Toyin Akinosho

Some 27,000MW of energy out of the 58,000MW generation capacity, cannot be delivered to the final consumers

Egypt embarked on an accelerated increase in electricity generation from 2015.

Now the country produces 58,000MW of electricity, ousting the power cuts that were severe between 2011 and 2014.

But the large surplus of supply, even during peak demand in the summer, has not totally annulled the blackouts around the country. Power outage stubbornly remains because transmission capacity has lagged behind generation increase.

Part of the problem is that the jump in generation was delivered by the government, without a comprehensive reform that ensures private parties contributing to generation, transmission and distribution at the same time.

The Electricity Ministry speedily added more than 28,000 MW in six years, through 27 power plants, excluding the (vast solar power plant) Benban park, which by November 2019, was producing almost 1,500MW.

The frenetic pace in increase in generation left transmission and distribution capacity in the dust, such that 40% of the total generation cannot be picked up by the relatively more outdated transmission and distribution infrastructure.

In effect, some 27,000MW of energy out of the 58,000MW generation capacity, cannot be delivered to the final consumers. Besides, operational and equipment inefficiencies keep some 4% of energy away.

The Egyptian government has been playing catch up with transmission and distribution infrastructure build out.

The Electricity Ministry built transmission lines between 2014 and 2018 extending over 2,600kilometres, the ministry spokespersons say. That’s equivalent to the total lines established over the previous five decades. “The grid had been built, starting from the 1960s, with a total length of less than 2,000 kilometres”, Mohamed Shaker, the Minister of Electricity & Renewable Energy, told the American Chamber of Commerce in February 2018. “We are constructing over 2,000kilometres, using a Chinese company, the largest in the world, as well some local companies.”

But that is not enough. The Ministry has spent   more than $1.6Billion (EGP 25Billion) between 2018-2020 to upgrade the transmission grid, and is now planning to invest another $765Milllion (EGP 12Billion) during the current fiscal year, $35Million (EGP 555Million) of which is going towards Greater Cairo alone, the Ministry claims. The target is extension of total transmission lines to 6,006km, by end of 2020, a situation which raises the maximum load to 32,000MW — a 600 MW or 1.87% increase.

Mr. Shaker’s ministry’s 2018-2021 plan called for reducing electricity loss from 4.07% in 2018-2019 to 3.82% in 2019-2020 and to 3.8% in FY2020-21. These losses were common due to the poor-performing transmission and distribution lines, in addition to consumers obtaining electricity illegally by linking houses to distribution lines directly without a meter to count consumption, thus avoiding paying of dues.

The government also says it is replacing more than 30km of medium-voltage overhead lines at a cost of $2Million (EGP 30Million). Africa Oil+Gas Report could not verify the ministry’s claim that this project, on its own, has led to a 25% decrease in blackouts. There are also plans to build a “parallel core grid”, of around 500 m of transmission lines as a safety gap to improve the service and reduce loads on the main network.

Work is also going on to replace overhead lines with underground cables. Projects are far more advanced in heavily populated areas, such as Cairo.

Despite Egypt’s significant success in increasing generation, there are areas, including East Owinat, Marsa Alm, Halayeb and Shalatin, which are outside of the grid. The government says it plans to extend electricity lines to some of those areas, but the details are hazy.

The current grid for the most part relies on outdated technologies that incur major maintenance costs and make identifying the causes of interruptions difficult. Whenever a power interruption occurrs, electricity distribution companies have to wait for consumers to report the problem. Once they receive a complaint, they investigate the cause, and either find a quick fix or order a reroute of the line — altogether an exhausting and time-consuming operation.

Egypt’s electricity ministry is also talking about is smart meters. “We are going to have our distribution network to be a smart grid”, Shaker told the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo. One Million, Two hundred and fifty thousand smart meters were under construction, he said.

It takes a lot more effort, than just constructing smart metes, to effect a smart grid, which allows utilities and customers to receive information from and communicate with the grid.

The Egyptian government has moved far slower to work on transmission and distribution of electricity than it has done on generation. Mr. Shaker’s presentations to the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo in February 2018 and June 2019, which were published by Africa Oil+Gas Report, were both loud on the work on generation and relatively quiet on the achievements in transmission. But Egypt, more than any other in Africa, is keeping its eyes on the electricity ball.

This piece was originally published in the September 2020 edition of the monthly Africa Oil+Gas Report. It’s one of few select articles that make it from paid subscription service to the free newsletter



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