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Feature Article of Thursday, 28 February 2013

Columnist: Quaicoe, Nana Attobrah

Ghanaians need sustainable solutions to Energy Crisis

27th February 2011

ENOUGH OF THE RHETORICS: GHANAIANS NEED SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS TO THE ENERGY CRISIS.

By: Nana Attobrah Quaicoe

The frustrations of Ghanaians keep growing by the day at the inability of elected officials to show leadership in the handling of the energy crisis that currently engulfs the entire space of Ghana. From children and schools that need light for their studies at night, the hospital laboratories and theatres needing reliable power to save lives, the cottage and large scale factories in the villages and cities respectively that need reliable and affordable power to sustainably remain competitive with the global trends, Ghanaians are simply tired of the regular excuses and description of age old problems by policy makers without actions to resolving them.
And the Danquah Institute fully identifies with the plight of these ordinary Ghanaians, who have to continuously bear with this unbearable circumstance without the benefit of any reasonable hope of a lasting solution to the current energy crisis situation from its elected leaders, enabled by their mandate to solve these problems on their behalf.
What Ghanaians need now is not the shifting of blame, which has become the character of the power generation, transmission and distribution companies, but a concrete plan of action towards resolving this emergency for the next 90 days, 180 days right through the medium and long term plan of actions. We do not need any rhetoric on how many megawatts one party or government came to meet and what the other party failed to add; neither do Ghanaians need hurriedly planned visits to the power stations as if we already did not know the problems.
We have seen a lot of such recently and yet we are where we are. Such gimmicks may only be worth their PR and propaganda value! Ghanaians are fed up with the lame excuses of, “oh, it was an accident, some pirates attacked a ship which had to flee and in so doing damaged the gas pipelines in the sea” and “oh, just as they were about repairing the broken pipes, two engineers died” emanating from government. If our government’s leadership is satisfied with these excuses because they do not experience the discomforts, domestic and business losses due to the erratic power supply, Ghanaians are not. Ghanaians want reliable and affordable power for our homes and businesses. As far as we are concerned at the Danquah Institute, President John Mahama failed to articulate a robust strategy for solving our energy problems as he delivered his state of the nation address last week Thursday.
Is it not ironic that only a few months ago just before the 2012 elections, there was a huge campaign of the wonders that had been attained in the power sector by this same government only for us to be thrown into the state we find ourselves less than three months after? The gospel truth on the situation with power in Ghana is that we have never really tackled the problem. While our population and demand for energy has long outstripped production/supply beyond the capacity of the Akosombo dam, governments have pretended to be providing solutions with the Aboadze and Asogli thermal plants, Bui dam etc when they were indeed cosmetics, unreliable and not the grossly need long lasting solution.
Right from the onset of the West African Gas Pipeline, Ghana had a contractual agreement with the company to be supplied a minimum of 100 million standard cubic feet of gas per day (100 mmscf/d) which has never materialized. On the average, Ghana was intermittently supplied about 40 million standard cubic feet per day (40 mmscfd) by the West African Gas Pipeline Company to power the Aboadzi and Asogli plants with relatively cheaper gas for power production.
The failure of the Nigerians to meet up with dictates of the contractual agreement meant that even with the existence of Aboadzi, Asogli and any envisaged thermal plant, gas supply and therefore energy production would never be reliable. Not even the discovery of gas in commercial quantities in Ghana would be sufficient to guarantee reliable power supply for the numerous thermal based plants our governments keep dreaming about. Indeed, assuming the Nigerians are able to supply all the 100 mmscf/d and the Jubilee fields produced its estimated 140 mmscf/d at optimum giving Ghana a total of about 240 mmscf/d, it would still fall far below what is the current gas need to adequately and reliably power our thermal plants. And this is a luxury Ghana does not even have presently. The rate of growth of energy demand by private and commercial consumers in Ghana can never be met if action plans for alternatives are not invoked. The cycle of load shedding, blackouts, and more crisis will continue unabated.
Granted that ECG still has to grapple with replacing its numerous obsolete equipment, the picture is pretty clear that even when all such are replaced tomorrow, Ghana will not become energy self sufficient overnight without investments into additional or complimentary energy sources and infrastructure.
We at the Danquah Institute believe one such energy alternative source lies with our solid waste.
Following the debate on the current energy crises that the country is going through, it is imperative that as a nation we start looking at other new and cleaner sources of energy instead of relying on our traditional sources. There has been talk of looking at solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy to augment the hydro and thermal sources that we already have, but a very viable and easy to come by source of energy which has added environmental and health benefits, are the tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) that we generate in our cities every day which gets piled up in front of houses, offices and by our streets because of poor collection and disposal.
In May 2012, the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) a non-profit, nonpartisan civic organization devoted to influencing constructive change in the finances and services of New York State and New York City governments released a research report on the financial and management practices of the State and the City. The report makes the case for a significant change in New York City's solid waste disposal practices, a shift from heavy reliance on long-distance exporting to landfills to greater reliance on use of local waste-to-energy facilities.
Solid waste can be converted to energy in alternative ways. The most common and widely used method is combustion. In Waste-to-Energy (WTE) plants with combustion technologies, waste is fed into a boiler and converted into electricity through the production of steam. Operators use the generated electricity to power plant operations and sell the excess. Most plants produce 550 to 650 kilowatt-hours of electricity for sale per ton combusted (typical examples can be found in Dwaben Oil Mills in the Ashanti Region and most timber processing firms in the country where waste from processing the palm fruits and timber are used to generate electricity for “in-house” operations on smaller scales).
According to the CBC report, a new 900,000-ton per year capacity combustion waste-to-energy (WTE) plant can produce 440 to 520 kilowatt-hours of excess electricity for sale per ton combusted; hypothetically a new 900,000 ton per year capacity WTE facility can produce 495,000 megawatts of excess electricity a year for the City of New York.

According to a performance audit report of the Auditor-General on solid waste management by Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) which was conducted between October 2008 and August 2009, it estimates that on a daily basis between 1,800 and 2,000 tonnes of solid waste are generated in the Metropolis. The Waste Management Department (WMD) and 14 private solid waste contractors are able to collect between 1,500 and 1,800 tonnes. This means that between 300 and 500 tonnes of waste remain uncollected daily, resulting in filth and unsightly environments.

The urban areas of Accra produce about 760,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) per year or approximately 2,000 metric tons per day (EPA, 2002). According to the EPA report, by 2025, this figure is expected to increase to 1.8 million tons per year, or 4,000 metric tons per day.

Based on the composition and the caloric values of Municipal Solid Waste in Ghana, it is estimated that combusting waste to energy plants in Ghana can produce 154,000 megawatts of electricity annually based on the over 760,000 tonnes of waste generated annually in Accra alone. This means over 421 megawatts of power can be generated daily from the 2,000 tonnes of solid waste the geographical boundaries of Accra Metropolitan Authority creates every single day.

According to the ECG, the reason for the current intensive load shedding is due to a shortfall of about 400 megawatts, just the equivalent or a little less than what can be generated from the 2,000 tonnes of solid waste Accra alone generates. (400 megawatts of power is enough to light the entire Ashanti, Central, Eastern and Volta regions).
Not too long ago, we all heard in the news about the shortage of waste in Sweden such that they had to import waste to power their plants. It is true that the initial capital investment into a ‘waste to energy’ is usually huge; it pays off in the long run. And there are environmental and health related benefits as well which adds up to the cost saving in the long term.

Even though the planning, designing and construction of a new plant would take some time, the long term cost of building a WTE plant in Ghana should be compared with the long term effects of relying on landfilling as a “waste management” option and also relying on our traditional sources of power in terms of the cost of buying crude oil and gas as to the cost of collecting solid waste to generate electricity. Aside providing us with an alternative source of cleaner power, a waste to energy plant will sure keep our environments cleaner since it would be in dire need of the waste we generate to produce power. Many more people will go into waste collection as a business because they have a ready buyer. Also, our hospitals will be less burdened with the usual outpatient visits because our environments will be cleaner and therefore healthier. The combustion processing of the different combination of solid waste will also give us ash which is a major requirement for the production of asphalt necessary for road constructions.

Suffice to say that without a reliable and adequate power supply and infrastructure, all the talks about Ghana’s industrialization supposed to be occasioned by our petrochemical resources and middle income status will be much ado about nothing.

The author of this article is the Head of Research at the Danquah Institute

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