News / Africa

Sierra Leone's Hydro-Power Dam Lighting Up Freetown

Sierra Leone's Bumbuna dam
Sierra Leone's Bumbuna dam

Multimedia

Fid Thompson

Sierra Leone's first hydro-power dam, almost 40 years in the making, was switched on in November 2009. It now produces 50 megawatts of electricity, sending regular power to most parts of the capital, Freetown. But transmission networks damaged during the country's civil war are so dilapidated that the capital can only absorb half of the dam's energy.

Nestled in the Sula Mountains in central Sierra Leone, the Bumbuna dam holds back 428 million cubic meters of water. Pressure from the dammed Seli river powers two massive turbines that provide a regular supply of electricity for the first time in the country's history.

Bockarie Vandi is one of the first Sierra Leonean mechanical engineers to work on the dam project. He says the dam at full capacity can actually produce twice the amount of electricity that Freetown's dilapidated networks can currently handle.

"At the moment our total capacity is 50 megawatts," said Bockarie Vandi. "But it is determined on the output that we give Freetown to take. If Freetown wants 20, we can give them 20. If they want 50 we can give them 50 - it depends on their network distribution. But for now we are giving them an average load of 27 megawatts at peak."

Much of Freetown's electricity infrastructure was destroyed during the country's decade-long civil war. Old distribution networks have not been maintained.

The National Power Authority says it is working to restore power to areas where old networks have failed and extend the grid to the rapidly expanding neighborhoods to the east of Freetown.

Generators still grumble a few times a week across Freetown. Even so, residents and businesspeople here say the hydro-power has changed life dramatically.

Akimatu Turay runs a streetside stall selling biscuits, sweets, and cigarettes under a large multicolored umbrella. Two bare bulbs strung from a nearby building light up his wares. For 25 cents, he will charge your mobile phone.  

Turay says since the powerplant was switched on, he has seen many changes. Business is much better. In the past, he says, when there was very little light, he had to use a generator which cost him a lot of money. The lights still go off every now and again, but the money he saves on diesel, he says, he invests into his business.

Turay says his two lightbulbs are essential for attracting customers. And with an average income of $7 a day just from charging mobile phones, he is pleased with the new power.

Before Bumbuna, the country functioned on an emergency power plan costing $2 million a month to fuel diesel generators that produced only enough power to cover essential services. There is no national power grid in Sierra Leone leaving about 5 million people outside the capital to rely on costly generators.

Brima George runs an internet café in western Freetown. He is pleased with the new flow of electricity. A month's electricity supply now costs him what he used to spend for four days of power from a generator. But, he says, there is room for improvement.

"It's still in the hands of the government because we still hear that Bumbuna is not fully completed," said Brima George. "So there are some places that do not get current at all, some places get it time after time. So I think if the government can pay more attention and invest there more to complete it, I think. And satisfy the people because there are businesses that depend on the electricity."

With cheaper, cleaner and more regular electricity in the capital, the government does have plans to light up other areas of the country. The second phase of the Bumbuna dam project will build a larger reservoir upstream that could add more than 100 megawatts to the dam's capacity.

According to Vandi, this would be enough to cover greater Freetown and parts of the northern provinces.

But it will be costly. Unless the government can secure the entire investment cost of $520 million, the second phase could be a long time coming. 

Related report by VOA's Scott Stearns

You May Like

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

Euro falls after European Central Bank announces a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program More

Saudi King’s Death Clears Succession Route

Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef is Saudi Arabia's New Crown Prince-in-waiting More

Cloud Hangs Over US Counterterrorism Efforts in Yemen

Sources say resignations of Yemen's president, government has left US anti-terror operations 'paralyzed,' yet an American military 'footprint' remains More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid