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Transforming Power Utilities by mainstreaming smart grids

Participants at the Leadership forum opening session

The 2018 edition of African Power Utilities CEO Leadership Forum took place in Cairo, Egypt, 9-10 July 2018, focusing on “Deployment of Smart Grids, Opportunities, Challenges and Strategic Options.” The forum was held back-to-back with the 52nd General Assembly of the Association of Power Utilities of Africa, hosted by the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company.

Co-funded by the African Development Bank and the Agence Française pour le Développement, this annual forum was organized by the Bank and the Association of Power Utilities of Africa within the framework of the African Network of Centers of Excellence in Electricity.

Welcoming participants, Jacques Moulot, Manager of the Bank’s Power Utilities Division, representing Vice-President Amadou Hott of Power, Energy, Climate and Green Growth, stressed the importance of power systems for economic development. “The performance of the power system of any country in terms of power generation and distribution largely affects economic capability of the country and the region at large,” he said. Hott invited the “CEOs of African Utilities to come forth with their needs and work with the Bank on the design of sustainable solutions in an integrated manner.”

Power utility CEOs, representatives from African Development Bank and Agence Française pour le Développement, and selected actors from industry and private sector were among the 120 forum participants. The shift to smart systems, they agreed, is being driven by the need for more reliable and efficient power systems, fewer total losses, better financial sustainability of utilities, overall customer management and economic benefits, and a transition to greener systems. 

However, CEOs cautioned that this is a long-term endeavor that requires careful phased planning, from simple metering solutions to smart integrated systems, while addressing security and local content issues.

Presentations about deployment of smart grids in Egypt, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa, and Zambia provided lessons and context for South-South cooperation. Continuing cooperation and knowledge exchange among utilities were encouraged. 

Zimbabwe’s power utility (ZESCO) MD and President of the Association of Power Utilities of Africa, Victor Mundende, expressed appreciation for the Bank’s support to the utilities. He congratulated the Bank for fully aligning with the need to bring utilities up to international performance standards with its new Sustainable Utility Transformation program, which provides tailored technical assistance, advisory services, lending and guarantees to make utilities creditworthy and to make the sector bankable.

The Bank seeks to achieve universal access to energy by 2025 by adding 160 GW of on-grid capacity, and 130 million on-grid and 75 million off-grid connections. In 2017, US$1.74 billion was approved for electricity and US$4.98 billion external co-financing were mobilized with an increase of 40% in private sector lending.