Although Sierra Leone is endowed with energy potential in various forms including biomass from agricultural wastes, hydro and solar power, it remains underutilized. Energy consumption is largely dominated by biomass sourced from fuelwood and accounts for around 80 percent of the energy used. Imported petroleum products, the next largest source of energy, are mainly for power generation and account for 13 percent of energy consumption. Only 15 percent of the total population and about 2.5 percent of the rural population currently have access to electricity. The power sector is small, with less than 150 MW of energy capacity connecting less than 150,000 customers with the cost for electricity heavily subsidized. The entire country lacks a stable and reliable public power supply and domestic demand remains significantly unmet.
The current electricity supply is challenged by generation capacity and seasonal variation and is disseminated using inadequate and aging transmission and distribution networks. It is delivered at a very high cost with Sierra Leone having one of the highest electricity tariffs in the sub-region. There are numerous waterfalls for hydropower and abundant sunlight for solar power generation with an estimated hydro project potential of more than 1000MW, while solar opportunities are above 240 MW. The major hydropower facility, Bumbuna Dam, with a peak of 50MW during the rainy season, has a reduced output of 8MW in the dry season.
The government has demonstrated a strong commitment to expanding the energy sector despite many major challenges over the past years. The enactment of relevant legislative reforms laid the foundation for the restructuring of the sector, which created the Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission (EWRC) in 2014, unbundled the former National Power Authority (NPA) into the Electricity Generation and Transmission Company (EGTC), and the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA) in 2015, and enabled the development of Independent Power Producers (IPP) projects. The EWRC focuses mainly on the regulatory aspects and set tariffs for consumers and tariffs between EGTC/IPPs, while the EGTC focuses on electricity generation and transmission. EDSA holds a monopoly as the single buyer from IPPs and the single seller to consumers.
Power Africa, a multi-partner initiative to increase efficient electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, supported Sierra Leone in 2015 with a $44.4 million four-year threshold program through the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The program addressed: strengthening the regulatory infrastructure; restructuring the water sector; streamlining the electricity sector; guiding the development of a roadmap for the implementation of reforms to enhance financial sustainability; and improved operational efficiency. Other initiatives undertaken by the government include the establishment of a Rural Renewable Energy Project to support increased access to rural energy resources and a Rural Electricity Board and a Rural Electricity Fund to promote and make electrification widely available in all regions, a Renewable Energy Empowerment Project to develop a knowledge base of existing renewable energy policies. The Côte d’Ivoire-Liberia-Sierra Leone-Guinea (CLSG) interconnector project, under the West African Power Pool (WAPP) program, aims to provide an increased supply of electricity to these countries to meet the growing demand and will create an incentive for hydropower potentials that exist in Sierra Leone.
While the overall objective of the government has been to provide energy in sufficient quantities to all regions of the country, there has been an inadequate investment and limited private sector participation in the energy sector. The government has therefore embarked on various reforms focused on improving governance and regulation to encourage private sector participation in the sector. The national Electricity Act enables the participation of IPPs in power generation and distribution. The Public-Private Partnership Unit in the Office of the President has developed a standard power purchase agreement to simplify and expedite negotiations with investors in energy and plans to establish feed-in tariffs to harmonize the sale of power from various IPPs into the WAPP and the national grid. The government is also providing special financial incentives to investors in the renewable energy sector and intends to promote the use of Liquified Natural Gas and Liquefied Petroleum Gas. The government is inviting private independent power producers to enter the sector and support the government in achieving this goal.
Consumer demand remains unmet. Electricity generation presents a future opportunity for U.S. investors, particularly in the supply of hydropower and solar energy as independent power producers to the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority for commercial and residential consumption. The WAPP CLSG interconnector project offers opportunities for investors. The expected increase in agriculture and hence increased crop production will be a valuable source of materials for biomass, an alternative source of energy. Wind energy could be effective in coastal areas. Yet, increased generation should be accompanied by the construction of transmission and distribution lines. While the government is looking for support from multilateral development partners, potential private sector investors can invest through public-private partnerships in the transmission and distribution capacity.
Sierra Leone seeks to increase installed capacity from the current 100MW to 350MW by 2023 while aiming to fully utilize its potential to exploit the 1,240 megawatts capability for local consumption and export in the sub-region. The many rivers with numerous waterfalls and the abundant sunlight for solar energy create considerable capabilities for power generation. U.S. firms command exceptional expertise in energy generation and producers of high-quality power equipment. This expertise and these products are of priority in the region and in considerable demand.