East, Central Africa eye new electricity trade

Saturday October 31 2015

By KABONA ESIARA, The EastAfrican

East and Central Africa are set to start trading in electricity with the completion of high voltage electricity transmission lines.

The 946km 220—400 kilovolt electricity transmission lines to be commissioned in phases starting November this year and through 2016 are expected to interconnect electricity grids in the Nile Equatorial Lakes countries.

The interconnectivity allows member countries to tap power from other parts of the region when facing deficits in electricity supplies.

“So the usual thing that we ration power in the Nile Basin will be something of the past,” said John Rao Nyaoro, executive director of the Nile Basin Initiative.

Under the project, Kenya will be linked with Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, countries that will pool a combined 8,500MW that could see at least 22 million people in the region gain access to electricity.

The 166 kilometre Uganda-Rwanda cross-border facility of 220kV comprises Shango to Birembo, Shango to Mirama and Mbarara to Mirama overhead transmission lines with the requisite substations.


Some $2.2 million mobilised through the European Union Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund has been given to the project co-ordinated by the Nile Basin Equatorial Subsidiary Action Programme, a subsidiary of the Nile Basin Initiative.

Subsidised cost

In Rwanda, energy utility officials say that generating a Megawatt of electricity from heavy fuels costs more than 0.35 US cents when the country is retailing the power at 0.22 US cents. This means the government has to subsidise the costs of power, which experts say is unsustainable.

Patrick Nyirashema, director general of Rura said new alternative sources of power to cover the deficit will be in place by February 2016.

The EastAfrican has learnt that Rwanda is likely to buy more diesel generators to cover for emergency shortages of power. It is estimated that in the next two years, the country’s electricity demand is likely to more than double from the current 165MW to 563MW stretching the current production capacity.

Rwanda, which aims to increase access to electricity from the current less than 22 per cent to 70 per cent, looks upon the regional electricity projects as timely.

The World Bank says connectivity to the national grid in East Africa remains relatively low, at 15 per cent of households. Thus, Rwanda is among the best performers in the region.

According to the World Bank, Tanzania has the highest number of households without electricity, at 7.2 million. This is followed by Kenya at 6.2 million, Uganda at 5.5 million, Rwanda at 1.7 million and Burundi at 1.4 million.

The Bank further says Rwanda experiences the highest number of power outages, with an average of 14 blackouts per month, followed by Burundi and Tanzania, both with 12. Ugandans expect 11 blackouts a month. Kenya’s power grid is more reliable, but still experiences an average of seven blackouts a month.