Senegal

Senegal: West Africa’s leading light

Senegal is taking steps to move away from heavy fuel oil and coal towards solar and wind while at the same time expand its energy capabilities. Read on to find out how this West African country is focusing on renewables to diversify its energy mix, boost capacity and achieve universal energy access by 2025.

Text: Beetle Holloway Photo: 123RF

Geographically, Senegal is the westernmost country of mainland Africa, pointing out towards the Atlantic. In terms of energy, Senegal is also pointing the way for its neighbours, setting an ambitious target of universal access by 2025.

Over 60% of the Senegalese population has access to electricity – one of the highest electricity access rates in West Africa. Nearly all urban dwellers have energy access, but rural electrification lags behind, and there are still 1.1 million homes nationwide without power. 

In pursuit of its goal of universal access, the Senegalese government has set its sights on a modern, reliable and diversified grid: by 2030, it intends to boost its generation capacity to 2.5GW, with a greater predominance of natural gas and at least 30% renewables. 

Ousseynou Ndiaye, Wärtsilä General Manager, Regional Operations, Africa West says Senegal has the right mix of factors to achieve this pioneering goal. 

“Senegal has a major advantage [over neighbouring countries] thanks to a regulatory framework that favours an energy mix and the quasi-liberalisation of production with the entry of independent producers,” Ndiaye says. 

Betting on renewables

According to data from the World Bank, last year, almost 80% of Senegal’s 940 MW grid capacity was made up of heavy fuel oil (67%) and coal (12%), with solar (12%) and imported hydropower (9%) accounting for the rest. In pursuit of its goal of 30% renewables by 2030, Senegal is investing in solar to take advantage of the country’s abundant sunlight. In 2015, solar accounted for just 0,4% of Senegal’s energy mix, but with the construction of five solar plants with a total capacity of 120 MW in 2016-2017, this number rose to 12% in 2018. With two further 30 MW capacity solar plants in the planning stages, this trend is set to continue. 

Senegal also will soon be harnessing wind speeds of more than 6 m/s when West Africa’s largest wind farm opens next year. Developed by Dutch renewable company Lekela Power, the 46-pylon farm at Taiba N’Diaye is set to produce 158.7 MW as of next year, providing energy to more than two million people and accounting for 15% of Senegal’s energy mix. 

Meanwhile, projects are underway on the Gambia and Senegal Rivers to increase the share of hydropower in energy production from 81 MW in 2017 to 256 MW in 2020. 

Cutting costs and boosting electrification

Recent oil and gas discoveries off the Senegalese coast – estimated by the government at 530 million barrels and 20 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) respectively – will not only enable Senegal to phase out coal and develop more renewables, but also will vastly reduce Senegal’s energy costs as the country will no longer need to import expensive HFO. Senelec – Senegal’s state-owned utility, which owns around 50% of Senegal’s generation capacity and also buys production from independent power producers (IPPs) – can use these savings to keep energy prices low and stable for consumers.

Marie-Andrée Truchi, Wärtsilä Regional Director, Africa West and also in charge of solution sales for Senegal says that Senegal is a “leading light” in West Africa for its stability and sound energy planning. The country has “very favourable sites for energy production and, as a stable country, there is less risk for foreign investors,” she says. 

Senegal was one of the first sub-Saharan countries to open up power production to the private sector in the 1990s. Since then, a raft of favourable regulatory policies – such as regional concessions and license programmes – have incentivised private energy production, especially in rural areas. Private companies are building solar micro-grids, and off-grid solar energy providers, such as Oolu Solar, are providing reliable and affordable solar home systems directly to remote households.

“The decentralisation of energy through mini-grids is becoming a reality with the help of renewables,'' says Ndiaye.

Senegal leads by example

Wärtsilä has been operational in Senegal since 1996 and according to Ndiaye, “around 40% of the national energy production is supplied through Wärtsilä plants.” From managing and operating plants for Senelec to providing equipment and services to private manufacturers, Wärtsilä’s intelligent solutions, such as the 130MW Flexicycle plant in Mbour, help improve efficiency in the production, distribution and integration of Senegal’s energy sources. 

Furthermore, Senegal has put energy production and universal energy access at the heart of its flagship development program – the Plan for an Emerging Senegal (PES) – which establishes a straightforward vision, specific targets and a coherent strategy. 

From increasing generation capacity to creating a range of new job opportunities, Senegal’s focus on renewables is starting to pay dividends. Most predictions say that the country will hit its goal of 30% renewables before the target deadline. Achieving universal access, particularly in rural areas, is more challenging, but Senegal is trying different methods to boost the numbers while still focusing on renewables, including rural concessions and license programmes, the roll-out of off-grid solar and cutting costs for grid-supplied energy.

Massaer Cisse, Lekela’s General Manager for Senegal, says: “Other countries can learn from Senegal by replicating the government’s commitment and vision of how it wants the market to develop. More widely, governments should look to mirror successful renewable projects across Africa with pride. While each country has its own framework, if the technology has been tried and tested elsewhere, we see no reason why that cannot be used as a blueprint.”

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