The wind in Mauritanian sails

The first wind farm in West Africa, Act II 

In a previous article we have seen that Nigeria and Mauritania are competing for the first wind farm in West Africa, respectively with a 10 and 4.4 MW project. Now it seems that Mauritania is taking the lead with a second project, but this time in premiere-league with 30 MW.

The Mauritanian industry and mining company SNIM, which hired Valorem to prepare the studies and to supervise the construction of the 4.4 MW wind farm in Nouadhibou at the extreme North of the country, is now planing to commission in October 2013 a second 30 MW wind farm south to the capital Nouakchott. Valorem offers again the engineering and consulting services. One can estimate the total investment to 45 million €, taking into account a nominal cost of 1,500 €/kW.

An ambitious project

The 2011 peak load of the Mauritanian interconnected network reached only 70 MW. At night during the cool season the load drops down to 25 MW, less than the wind farm installed capacity.

OMVS HV network

Hopefully Mauritania is interconnected with Senegal and Mali through a 225 kV single circuit overhead line being part of the OMVS network that was built to export the energy produced at the 200 MW hydro power plant located at Manantali in Mali (see opposite map).

There is therefore no technical issue to export the excess energy to the two neighboring countries, at the condition that the single HV circuit overhead line is available, which is not always the case.

For some people in Mauritania there is no need for export. Major industrial projects would soon grow in the desert. New factories would add enough electricity consumption so that there will be no excess energy to export. Fifteen years in Africa have shown me that projects developers and officials are extremely too optimistic when it concerns industries development. It would take years to start running the first factory in Mauritania.

One might object that same optimistic attitude is often adopted when estimating power plants project schedule. Fair enough. But SNIM particularly need more energy to develop its mining activities. Raw material international market prices are high. It is the right time to SNIM to invest in increasing its production. An incentive stronger than investing in factories in Mauritania. SNIM needs power to develop. They then have to build new power plants.

Two missing links

First, the Mauritanian utilities Somelec does not have a National Load Dispatch Centre (NLDC). The operation of the network is done manually (the operator uses a computer mouse to control active and reactive power production as well as circuit breakers. There is no automation) and power plants operators communicate on the phone. Yes, we live in the XXI Century. Shocking, isn’t it?

The good news is that another project of a new 120 MW power plant located north to Nouakchott is undergoing and also requires a NLDC. Somelec is well aware of the situation and is doing everything he can to find a solution to fund the  construction of the NLDC. One can reasonably hope that the NLDC will be ready before the wind farm.

Second, there is no network close to the wind farm location. 33 kV underground cables or overhead lines must be installed to connect it to Arafat substation, the closest one located 11 km away. The problem is that the substation is very old and in bad shape, and no spare feeders are available. Additionally it belongs to Somelec, not to SNIM. A new switchgear must then be installed. It wouldn’t be technically difficult because there is enough free space inside the substation fence. But an agreement shall be achieved between Somelec and SNIM (who pays for what? What belongs to whom?) Negotiation could require much more time than building the wind farm.

So, nothing technically insurmountable, but not easy to manage.

Missing business case

The major threat shall be searched out somewhere else. At which tariff shall be sold the energy produced by SNIM to Senelec and/or EDM, the Senegalese and Malian utilities? How much shall be paid to SOGEM, the OMVS operator, for using its network? And Somelec, what would be its share?

None of these crucial questions was yet raised. Why? Because they are extremely difficult to answer. On one hand, the legal frame is complicated, not only because of the implication of three countries, but mainly because the laws applicable to the energy sector are not prepared to address such a case.

On the other hand, it took ten years to the Senegalese, Malian and Mauritanian authorities to agree on energy tariff and respective allocation of the energy produced by Manantali. One can hope this time the negotiations between SNIM, Somelec, SOGEM, Senelec and/or EDM and the three national authorities will not last as long. But I am not sure it can be done before the wind farm produces its first kWh.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

Related articles

Looking for wind in Africa

Unfavorable wind pattern

Prevailing wind pattern found in the tropics is not very favorable for power generation. Mean wind speed is globally smaller than in Europe and the USA (see the map), except along some coasts (clockwise): North of Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco, Egypt, Somalia, Kenya, South Africa and Namibia. Best spots are predominantly remote, inhabited, and without infrastructures (road and power network).

Global wind speed

Optimistic wind maps

Wind maps, like the one displayed opposite, are created by models based on mathematical equations that describe the physics and dynamics of the atmosphere, calibrated from observational data. The more measurements, the higher the accuracy.

Wind measurement at wind generator height is a scare resource in Africa. Few measurement campaigns were performed, expect at some best spots. In vast areas, in particular the Sahara, calculated mean wind speed entirely relies on atmospheric model calibrated from data measured thousands kilometers away. Such results cannot be seriously used.

Higher vertical and horizontal resolution, as well as few measurements at 40 m were recently used to produce detailed wind maps for Mali and Senegal. Results confirm that global models overestimate wind speed in the Sahara. Wind potential is limited in a narrow band along the coast, where 8 m/s can be found. Wind speed dramatically declines when entering the continent. Best spots in Mali benefits for a mere 5.5 m/s.

Another wrong solution for Africa

Before the national wind map was available, Canadian wind developers supported by the Canadian development cooperation administration convinced the government of Mali to install an hybrid system (small wind turbine & diesel generator) in a remote small town reputed being windy. But the wind people feel is not the one needed for power generation. The wind turbine stands useless most of the time. Inhabitants are frustrated. They were told that the system would produce electricity mainly from wind, but now they have to pay for the fuel. Finally the wind turbine was dismantled and installed in another small town, leaving the diesel generator producing electricity and greenhouse gases. By the way, the same story was repeated in the other town.

Accurate wind map wanted

There is therefore an imperative need in Africa for wind measurements (typically at two thirds of hub height, i.e. 60 m to reach a high of 90 m for the wind turbines) and accurate wind maps. Global maps like the one above, as well as feelings and hearsay, cannot anymore be the only sources of information for decision makers to define investment policy.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

One day, my wind farm will come to Gao

Hot air in Mali

2005, we were a pool of European experts, landing in Bamako to prepare the Rural Electrification Master Plan of Mali, financed by the African Development Fund (ADF) and the Government of Mali. When we arrived, Malians were talking about a new wind farm to be built in Gao, one of the most remote city in the world. Studies were done, the project was proved to be economically profitable for the country, the site was identified and reserved, the contractor was selected, funds were granted, willingness was everywhere. Today, the wind is still uselessly blowing. Why nothing happened?

Tariff kills the project

The government and the project sponsor failed to agree on feed-in tariff. The tariff requested by the sponsor was fair and in line with international practices. But it was to high. “So” high that it was even higher than the price the final customers are paying for their electricity in Gao. Electricity in Mali is heavily subsidized by the government to support the national economy.

As mentioned above, the project was proved to be profitable. If one adds subsidies to the price of electricity, the sum is higher than the proposed feed-in tariff. The deal was valuable for the government. But not for the national company Energie du Mali (EDM) that operates Gao’s diesel generators and network, which has to buy the wind kWh at feed-in tariff and sell it at customers’ price.

Goodwill has its limits

Someone had to make concessions. The sponsor, no way. They are other opportunities around the world. EDM, difficult. Their balance sheet is already full of red. The government then. Yes, but… Who will finance the difference? The World Bank or another international donor? No. They don’t finance operation, only initial capital investments. Should then the Malian population finance the wind farm because of government’s subsidies on oil products?

Tackling the root of the evil

At this point, it is clear that as long as subsidies are granted for oil products, wind farm project will remain on paper. Many argue that touching them would automatically result in political and social instability. Discussions between the government and the World Bank have been underway for some time now. Alas, it seems that politicians and economists have different views.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH

The first wind farm in West Africa

Here we go

The French manufacturer Vergnet SA signed  in January 2011 a contract with the Mauritanian mining company Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (SNIM)  for sixteen 275 kW wind turbines, i.e. a total of 4.4 MW.

The German company Lahmeyer International GmbH claims on their website to “support West Africa’s first wind farm project” with thirty-seven 275 kW wind turbines, also furnished by Vergnet. The 10 MW Katsina wind farm is currently under construction in North of Nigeria.

I don’t know who’s the first. I don’t care. It is important that real projects develop and that wind farms grow in West Africa, and elsewhere.

Weak wind, weak development

One has to admit that wind potential in West Africa is limited. The best region is a narrow coastal band starting from Dakar in Senegal, up to Morocco, with typical wind speed of 5 to 6 m/s. Some spots display values up to 7 m/s.

On the contrary solar potential is high with solar radiation up to 6 kWh/m²/day. It explain the relative success of photovoltaic projects, in particular household systems.

What’s next?

The Mauritanian Government invites wind turbines suppliers to apply for a new project close to the capital Nouakchott. The installed capacity would be between 30 and 40 MW. The deadline for offer submission is on the 11.12.2011.

There is study after study in Senegal since many years. The first wind farm would probably be installed in the North, close to Saint-Louis. The installed capacity would be between 15 and 50 MW. The French Developing Agency (Agence Française de Développement – AFD) is on the tracks to finance to project.

Announcements of up to 200 MW of wind energy in Nigeria proliferate. But Katsina wind farm remains the only actual project.

Gauthier Dupont
Dupont Energy Consulting GmbH