chris“With the active role GRIDCo is playing in the local and regional electric utility sector, I would like to see Ghana becoming a net exporter of power”

Exclusive interview with Dr Chris Mensah-Bonsu, Principal Technical Consulting Advisor for Ghana Grid Company Limited (GRIDCo) and is co-owner of MB Energy in California, USA. Dr Mensah-Bonsu is a featured speaker at the upcoming African Utility Week in the Transmission & Distribution session and is participating with two of GRIDCo’s executives – William Amuna who is the CEO of GRIDCo and Bernard T. Modey, Director of System Operations.

Let’s start with some background on the history of the Ghana Grid Company and your role at the company?

I have been retained by GRIDCo as Principal Technical Consulting Advisor with responsibilities to support its efforts in electricity market development, energy policy and compliance, grid-connected renewable energy integration, real-time power system and energy control centre operations, reliability standards and procedure development, staff capacity building and mentoring, as well as efforts with the cooperation of the regional West Africa Power Pool (WAPP).

The Ghana Grid Company Limited (GRIDCo) was established as an independent electric power utility company in accordance with the Ghana Energy Commission Act, 1997 (Act 541) and the Volta River Development (Amendment) Act, 2005 (Act 692) to exclusively operate the Ghana National Interconnected Transmission System (NITS). The NITS comprises of 69 kilovolt through 330 kilovolt high voltage transmission facilities with approximately 4,100 MVA available transformer capacity spread across 60 substations.

GRIDCo was incorporated on 15 December 2005 and began operations on 1 August 2008, effectively transferring to GRIDCo the national power transmission asset that was under the jurisdiction of the Ghana Volta River Authority (VRA). It serves as the main artery between independent power producers and bulk electric customers. Some of the key functions of GRIDCo are to:

  1. Acquire, own and manage transmission assets, facilities and systems to safely operate the NITS and transmit electrical energy,
  2. Develop and promote competition in the Ghana’s wholesale electricity market,
  3. Provide transparent, non-discriminatory and open access to the transmission grid for all electricity market participants – – independent power producers and bulk electric consumers.

You will address AUW on the Ghanaian government’s policy goal requiring 10% of its electric load to be served from renewable energy sources by 2020. How will this be achieved?

The government through its Energy Commission has set its renewable energy policy goal at 10% by 2020 and provided incentives enshrined in the nation’s Renewable Energy Sub-Code for NITS, and Renewable Energy Act, 2011(Act 832) for promoting the integration of renewables, including a guaranteed 10-year Feed-In-Tariff that is renewable every two years thereafter, duty-free taxes on importation of systems and equipment for renewable energy generation, etc. Most importantly:

  • The gazetted Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) provides enabling environment, good incentives and adequate signal to ensure that potential investors of renewable energy are guaranteed reasonable return on their investment.
  • The Renewable Energy Sub-Code provides technical connection conditions to guide potential investors.
  • A Renewable Energy Purchase Obligation (REPO) is in place and guarantees that each customer meets its energy consumption with some amount of renewable energy.
  • Capacity building and Renewable Energy Technology Transfer (RETT) initiatives are being pursued at the Ghana polytechnic institutes, universities and also consultative workshops on renewable energy policy and regulatory gap analysis under the China-Ghana South-South Cooperation.
  • A net metering system that allows for compensation for smaller scale injection of renewable energy at the distribution level is in place.

Presently, there are three separate solar photovoltaic renewable energy installations in operation totaling 23.25MW, including the 20MW facility that achieved commercial operation in 2015.

The Ghana Ministry of Power in partnership with the German Development Agency, GIZ, has issued an expression of interest to tender a number of grid-connected solar PV facilities in the various regions of Ghana. This strategy will result in a simultaneous take-off of renewables development in many parts of the country.

GRIDCo as the independent operator of the NITS is doing its part by facilitating a transparent working relationship with prospective grid-connected renewable generation applicants and developers to make sure that they experience a very conducive environment in the renewable development cycle before, during and after the project achieves commercial operation. Recognising the increasing interest of potential IPPs to site their variable renewable energy generators in close proximity to existing and planned transmission facilities, including 330kv high voltage transmission lines and power stations, GRIDCo is proactively planning to build renewable energy Collector Stations to accommodate the connection of potential renewable energy generation facilities to the NITS.

Furthermore, GRIDCo has developed guidance documents setting out the necessary requirements and procedures to streamline the grid-connected renewable generator connection process, ensure best industry practice, smooth, safe and responsible connection. These documents that can be accessed at the GRIDCo’s public website include the Generator Connection Application Form, and Transmission Utility Procedures for Generator Connection.

Which renewable energy sources are most feasible for Ghana?

It is to be noted that renewable energy includes solar (photovoltaic and thermal), small hydroelectric power plants, wind, biomass, biogas and geothermal. Ghana, like most African countries, is endowed with renewable fuels. Consequently, all types of renewable energy resources, perhaps with the exception of geothermal, could be developed in economic scale in Ghana.

The four most feasible renewable energy resources that could be developed to quickly achieve commercial operation and readily enhance reliability of the NITS while spurring meaningful economic activities in both the lives of urban and rural dwellers as well as the national economy are: Solar photovoltaic (PV), small run-off the river hydroelectric power plants (approximately 30MW or less and without storage), wind and biogas.

By aggressively developing these resources as part of our energy mix, will not only tremendously improve the reliability of the grid, but also brings financial benefits in the form of carbon emission credits and global goodwill from the resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

What challenges do you foresee in reaching these goals?

A potential challenge in reaching the renewable target could be the availability of credible off-takers who have traditionally depended on energy from existing large hydroelectric and natural gas power plants. Access to credit to pre-finance renewable energy projects is also a concern. The other challenge is the perceptional attitude about the cost of renewables in general and as a viable option for meeting the load.

Do you think that 10% is achievable or is the target perhaps too low?

For a country such as Ghana with a real-time peak load of about 2,000 MW, the 10% renewable target by year 2020, though cautiously conservative, is achievable and presents a good start in the right direction. I am optimistic that as renewables gain ground and its penetration increases in Ghana, this target could be revised upward.

What is your vision for Ghana’s energy future?

First of all, my vision is for Ghana to aggressively pursue, adopt and develop renewable energy as a major component of our national energy mix. Secondly, with the active role GRIDCo is playing in the local and regional electric utility sector, I would like to see Ghana becoming a net exporter of power with improved system reliability, a major player in the west African electricity market and the regional power pool – the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP).

It is also my hope that Ghana will be guided by a comprehensive energy policy that could be implemented successfully to ensure adequate generation supply, very robust and resilient transmission and distribution networks, and also aggressively be inclusive of renewable energy, particularly solar photovoltaic, small run-off the river hydroelectric power, wind and biomass. An energy policy that aims at making Ghana a country of practical and quality renewable energy technology hub involving the youth, polytechnic institutes, universities and industry in the area of research, development, design, manufacturing, installation and maintenance of solar energy technology and solutions as well as the end of life-cycle renewable energy waste management.

How important is regional cooperation in your view?

Very relevant! Regional cooperation in the electric utility sector is very important to our vision, our geographical location and the investments being made under the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) to make electricity more reliable, affordable and available to our people and our relatively less endowed neighbours.

Anything you would like to add?

It is my hope that regional cooperation of our electric utility industry will not end at the sub-regional levels of WAPP, EAPP, SAPP, etc. but will lead to a continental integration as a strong and an effective African Power Pool working together to advance humanity and the economic health of our people.

Getting energy resources connected to various grid locations across Ghana, as is the case for renewables – rather than at almost a single geographic location as most of Ghana’s resources are today – improves electric power system reliability, consistency and predictability in service delivery to the electric consumer, provides opportunity for system and equipment maintenance without overly burdening the customer and control centre operators. Connecting renewables across the country and in close proximity to the electric load centres also reduces electrical losses,which is a major concern for our utility industry.

This is why I am also hopeful that Ghana will rise to the challenge and embrace those four primary renewable energy resources that I have earlier identified in this interview as an integral part of the overall national energy portfolio to meet our present and growing energy need.

Brief Biography of Dr Chris Mensah-Bonsu

Dr Chris Mensah-Bonsu is from Agyamasu in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. Dr Mensah-Bonsu is co-owner of Mensah-Bonsu Energy Consulting, Inc. (dba. MB Energy), an energy consulting company based in California, USA and also serves as Principal Technical Consulting Advisor to the Ghana Grid Company Limited (GRIDCo) with responsibilities for electricity market development, energy policy and compliance, grid-connected renewable energy integration, real-time power system and energy control center operations, reliability standards and procedures development, staff capacity building and mentoring, as well as efforts with the cooperation of the regional electric utility industry, the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP). Chris has over 15 years of experience with California Independent System Operator, USA. He serves on the US Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) Technical Studies Subcommittee. He is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and Chair of IEEE Power & Energy Society PSACE Awards Working Group. He is a Part-Time Professor of Electrical Engineering at California State University, Sacramento, USA. Dr Mensah-Bonsu holds a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from Arizona State University, Tempe, USA.