East Africa electricity firms in bid to reduce power losses

Saturday December 12 2015

By JAMES ANYANZWA, The EastAfrican

East Africa’s utility firms are working to reduce power losses through transmission and distribution as the region inches closer to a grand plan of power sharing to ensure reliability and cost savings.

The East African Power Master Plan (EAPMP), which was developed in 2003, recommended the establishment of a power pool to facilitate power trade and joint least-cost power development planning. Partner states are now implementing programmes to develop a regional power exchange market and accelerate interconnection.

Kenya and Uganda have embraced ambitious measures to control technical (transmission) and commercial (distribution) power losses and thus conserve energy, protect revenues and save consumers from possible rises in tariffs.

“Distribution losses are a concern to every utility and, if not addressed, erodes company revenue and negatively impact on electricity pricing,” said Selestino Babungi, managing director of Uganda’s Umeme Ltd.

Mr Babungi said energy losses manifest themselves in two forms: Technical, through the configuration of the network; and commercial, mainly through power theft or billing anomalies.

“Our network studies estimate the technical losses at around 13 per cent, with commercial losses at about six per cent,” Mr Babungi told The EastAfrican. “Umeme has been moderately successful in reducing losses over the past 10 years.

“At the commencement of the concession in 2005, the losses were in the range of 38 per cent but we had achieved a sustained reduction to 19.2 per cent as of June 2015.”

Umeme seeks to drive down energy losses to 15 per cent by 2018.

Kenya hopes to cut losses through transmission and distribution to as low as nine per cent from 17.5 per cent as Kenya Power loses about Ksh1 billion ($9.64 million) of its revenues annually on each percentage point loss in power.

The two nations are banking on technology. Kenya Power has procured a Ksh46 million ($443,519) software — Energy Balance Module (EBM) — and installed a fully fledged department to detect power losses occurring along the transmission and distribution lines and provide appropriate interventions.

Umeme is focusing on increased investments to optimise its network. It has also rolled out prepaid meters to over half of its domestic consumers and introduced smart metering for medium and large power users to reduce commercial power losses.

Other means include simplification of new connections, intensification of network audits and implementation of technological solutions such as e-billing and mobile money payments.