This is Part Two of a six-part series on Gabon
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Gabon has begun upgrading its electrical power and distribution facilities to meet industry and residential demands, according to a government official involved in the project.
“There was a high rise in demand from the local population as well as industry,” said Patrick Rodrigue Yalis Ongala, the director of electricity at Gabon’s Ministry of Mining, Energy, Oil & Hydraulic Resources. “That’s why the government decided to upgrade [older] dams and is now constructing new ones.”
Officials say energy demand in the capital, Libreville, and surrounding areas is 183 Megawatts (MW). A report by the Oxford Business Group (OBG)
notes demand is growing by up to 5 percent per year, which includes demands for electricity from rural areas.
But the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says only 36 % of all Gabonese have access to electricity
, most of them in urban areas. The group says over 900,000 people, largely in the countryside, lack access.
The EIA says that while Gabon has “vast potential to expand” its hydroelectric power, “the country lacks adequate infrastructure,” especially in rural areas, to take advantage of its natural resources.
In its report, the Oxford Business Group noted that Gabon was already working with China to help finance a doubling of its electrical transmission lines, but mainly in the Libreville region.
Development experts also note the importance of rural access to electricity, saying it spurs economic development and helps promote improvements in healthcare and education.
To meet growing energy needs, the government is planning to build more power-producing dams, which the EIA says today account for only about 9 percent of all energy production. Most production now comes from the use of petroleum or from biomass and waste.
Ongala said the government’s intention is to increase overall electrical power production from 374 MW to 1200 MW by 2020.
He said to meet that objective not only by building new hydro-electric dams, but gas powered plants and a heavy fuel power station.
“We are expecting 160 megawatts of energy, in which 75 percent will be dedicated to the Mwanda factory and the rest of the 25 percent will be for the population network,” Ongala said of one new project. “We are constructing another dam in the southern region to produce about 84 megawatts, and also in the northern side on the Okano River, which will produce 54 megawatts of electricity.”
China’s Sinohydro Company will build the hydroelectric dam in Haut Ogooue province. The project began in late 2008, with an estimated cost of $ 374,259,849.
Ongala predicted the new dam will produce electricity to meet the country’s energy needs.
And if there’s enough left over, he said, power will be exported to neighboring countries in Central Africa.
Development specialists welcome the construction of hydroelectric plants though they note provisions should be included to provide for potential erosion or the diversion of water used by some communities for drinking or for agriculture.
The experts also say Gabon’s plans – as with those for other African countries -- will need to provide for the improvement of transmission facilities. In many countries, the electrical power infrastructure was built before independence and poorly maintained since.
Much of that infrastructure is now obsolete. The development experts say energy plans should be all encompassing. Rural areas need to take advantage of alternative energy sources, including solar, wind and biomass.