Natural gas is a key contender to alleviate Africa’s energy crisis. Made up largely of methane and other hydrocarbons, natural gas occurs naturally underground, often in association with petroleum
The inadequacy of electricity supply is a fact of life in nearly every sub-Saharan country. But while power constraints are a challenge of everyday life, they are also inspiring innovative solutions as government and industry look to keep Africa’s lights glowing.
Bringing power to big cities and local communities alike is not an effort that can be undertaken by a sole party. Government, trade associations, international development organisations, industry leaders and other stakeholders are all key components of the strategic partnerships needed to lead the charge. Ultimately, the goal is to deliver, in a holistic, cost-effective way, gas-fired powered generation to under-served markets. GE refers to this approach as its “Gas to Power” (GTP) initiative and is premised on the ability to get natural gas to locations that need power.
Natural gas is a key contender to alleviate Africa’s energy crisis. Made up largely of methane and other hydrocarbons, natural gas occurs naturally underground, often in association with petroleum. Considered the cleanest of all fossil fuels, it produces less harmful pollutants when heated, in comparison to other fossil fuels, such as coal. Sub-Saharan Africa has vast proven natural gas reserves, with recent significant gas discoveries made in Mauritania, Mozambique and Tanzania.
Advances in technology that enable power generation have made natural gas a viable, cost effective option to address previously insurmountable energy challenges, aided by the fact that gas-fired power stations are faster and simpler to build and maintain than coal, hydro or nuclear. Countries, such as Ghana andSouth Africa, are already investing in GTP solutions as they seek to leverage the powerful, plentiful resource.
Despite promising gas discoveries and technical advances in recent years, the reality is that the continent is facing an immediate energy crisis, with 30 African countries suffering from regular blackouts, which is estimated to lead to economic losses of roughly two to five per cent of GDP. While governments across the region are committed to electrifying their countries through investments in power infrastructure, ensuring the security of immediate energy needs is equally as important.
According to a whitepaper authored by Mike Farina, Market Development Director, GE Global Gas to Power, GE’s GTP initiative takes a fresh approach to delivering sustainable power. The company is convening stakeholders along the full spectrum of the gas supply to power generation value chain, because GE recognises that no one stakeholder can deliver a deployable solution alone. Creating alignment among various parties is critical for success.
GE’s GTP offerings bring cost-effective, fast and flexible electricity that provide speedier access to city-scale power solutions. These solutions are well-suited for rapidly developing countries because they can be scaled along with demand. The approach is attractive for a variety of applications; from increasing energy access and addressing shortages, to avoiding higher cost oil-fired power. Integrated GTP solutions can also help create flexibility in the power system. For example, GTP can back-up hydro power in times of drought or switch on and ramp up quickly to address sudden, unexpected demand.
Further, GTP offers modularity and flexibility allowing for its application to the full range of energy needs, from mega-projects to micro-grids. In many cases, GTP projects are a quick, economically-viable means to bridge the gap until larger, centralised projects can be developed. Such is the case in Ghana, where GE is building a 1200 MW gas-fired power plant that will boost the country’s power generation capacity incrementally by 50 per cent from its current installed capacity of 2 GW.
Another key advantage of natural gas generation is its lower capital start-up costs compared to other sources of electricity. On a dollar per kilowatt basis, the capital cost of installing gas technology is one-half to one-fifth of the estimated cost of coal or nuclear plants, respectively.
The timing for GTP projects has never been better given the significant amount of LNG available in the global markets alongside significant gas resource finds in the African continent. With careful planning, Africa’s significant offshore discoveries could boost trade patterns and business models in the region, creating opportunities for GTP solutions.
“GE offers the most advanced and wide-ranging power generation systems for everything from mega-cities to isolated villages, from industrial sites to municipal grids,” Bhattacharyya said. “GE’s wide array of technology offerings can serve projects that scale to each community’s needs and are in alignment with whatever indigenous resources may be available.”
Rapid access to energy is a crucial step in helping many African countries reach their economic potential. Yet, traditional energy development models have struggled to deliver in many cases and for a variety of reasons. The speed and flexibility of GTP projects hold tremendous promise for communities and countries across Africa, particularly those willing to take a fresh look at how gas can play a larger role in their energy mix.
“GE is resolute in its commitment to developing Africa’s power grid through developing, alongside partners, integrated power projects that will bring much needed electricity to all countries in Africa, said Bhattacharyya . “The beauty of gas to power is that it enables lower cost power and fast implementation. Gas to Power is a significant part of the GE Store of solutions set to deliver sustainable power to the region.“
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