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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid