As the association spearheading Sierra Leone’s energy revolution, REASL, led by President Kofie Macauley, have been lobbying for the development of a clean energy future since 2016.
The full potential of renewable energies (RE) in Sierra Leone is yet to be fully realised. With one of the lowest electricity access rates in the world, Sierra Leone’s national electrification rate is approximately 26 percent. Within rural areas, this figure falls to just 6 percent.
The country’s energy industry, let alone specifically concerning renewables, faces significant challenges of a complicated distribution system, a weak infrastructure with high technical and commercial losses, an insufficient capacity, combined with low voltage quality. As with many Sub-Saharan African countries, limited (or indeed, no) access to energy is prevalent in rural areas, where providing clean cooking solutions presents a major hurdle for communities. It is estimated that 96.8 percent of Sierra Leone’s population cooks with either firewood or charcoal. Many are forced to resort to petrol or diesel generators to power their homes, and kerosene or battery lamps for lighting solutions in the face of an unstable public energy supply.
Sierra Leone’s electricity is primarily sourced from thermal power plants. This is supplemented by several small hydroelectric installations, including the Dodo hydroelectric power plant in the country’s southeast, yet the country’s roaring river valleys possess a potential for hydropower that remains unharnessed.
At the centre of this relatively nascent industry, is the Renewable Energy Association of Sierra Leone (REASL) – the trade association dedicated to the development of a thriving renewable energy market. The organisation is headquartered in the capital of Freetown, strategically located at the centre of one of the world’s largest natural harbours and ringed by the thickly forested mountain slopes of the Freetown Peninsula.
Led by President Kofie Macauley, who officially began tenure in 2019, REASL are dedicated in their pursuit and continue to adopt an active role in promoting the interest of their members within the RE sphere to major stakeholders, primarily the government and public sector. Advocacy, lobbying and marketing are instrumental in this goal, particularly concerning the dissemination of vital information on global and local issues, policies regarding new technologies and business models within the sector.
REASL: MISSION AND VISION
To accelerate the adoption of renewable energy to achieve universal energy access and economic empowerment in Sierra Leone.
To be the dominant renewable energy organisation to enable total energy access in Sierra Leone
INTERVIEW: RENEWABLE ENERGY ASSOCATION OF SIERRA LEONE (REASL)
Can you talk us through the origin of the Renewable Energy Association of Sierra Leone (REASL); how it came about, and its initial vision?
Kofie Macauley (KM): Well, I happen to be one of the founding members of REASL. The association was born from the desire to ensure that renewable energy is included on the National Energy Electrification Plan for Sierra Leone, led by like-minded people who believe that achieving the energy transition will require having renewable energies in the energy mix. Driven by this ideal, REASL was established in 2016 to compliment the Government of Sierra Leone’s efforts in meeting targets delineated in the UK Government’s Energy Africa Compact, and the US Government’s Power Africa initiative seeking to address the inadequate, unreliable and unequal access of energy across Sub-Saharan Africa. With only 10 percent – 15 percent of a seven million population connected to the national electricity grid, the establishment of REASL set the stage for the launch of an Energy Revolution in Sierra Leone. The body serves as an independent institution to measure transparency, accountability and regulation of the renewable energy sector. Thanks to the steadfast leadership of REASL, we have succeeded in creating a space for renewable energy companies to contribute in accelerating energy access for economic empowerment in Sierra Leone.
Since inception, how has REASL developed and progressed in terms of its key objectives and the messages it tries to get across?
KM: Before its establishment, founding members of REASL played a pivotal role in ensuring Sierra Leone becomes the first country to sign the Energy Africa Compact in 2015. It should be noted that the Energy Africa Compact is designed to accelerate universal energy access by 2030.
Effective 2016, REASL has facilitated a multi-stakeholder Energy Resolution Taskforce for Sierra Leone. And over the past five years REASL has achieved the following results:
As of 2018, modern solar energy have been provided for 250,000 households
Facilitated policy reforms and streamlined off-grid Renewable Energy (RE) and Energy Efficiency (EE) in the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) of the Ministry of Energy and the Integrated National Electrification Plan being formulated by MCC Unit with emphasis on off-grid energy strategy and solution
Lobbied on delivery of a new Import Duty and Sales Tax waivers by the House-of- Parliament for ALL Solar PVs meeting the standard of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)
Periodically reactivating the membership of its over 39 members forming REASL
Served as a clearing house for the dissemination of information on local and global issues, policies, new technologies, and business models within the sector
Organised the first national Networking and Exhibition Event on renewable energy products in November 2019. This event brought together members of REASL and the general public including the Founder and CEO of The Energy Nexus Network- TENN, Head of the Presidential Priority Project, and international partners. The event created a space for stakeholders in the renewable energy sector to network, deliberate, and map-out approaches for scaling-up the use of renewable energy especially in rural communities.
What do you find most exciting about working in Sierra Leone’s renewable energy market?
KM: Though REASL is a relatively new body, it has nonetheless effectively provided the platform to attract private investment and build local capacity in the renewable energy sector. Hence, one thing I find exciting presiding over REASL is the regular engagements with our members, government stakeholders, and development/donor partners in promoting the role of renewable energy in closing the energy gap in Sierra Leone. Dissemination of vital information on global and local issues, policies regarding new technologies and business models within the sector are key in ensuring a thriving renewable energy market. As a result, advocacy, lobbying and marketing are instrumental in my ongoing endeavour with REASL.
On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges facing the development RE sector in SL?
KM: Thanks to improvements made, there are nonetheless key barriers that need to be address to facilitate growth and expansion of the renewable energy sector in Sierra Leone, namely:
Access to Finance – exiting interest rates from Commercial Banks are discouragingly high, hence limiting business growth and decentralisation of renewable energy products across the country. This would necessitate engaging with the Central Bank for lower interest rates for long-term loans pegged on certain ceiling amounts. The forex currency risk with inflation should also be considered to attract private investment and innovative microcredit financing for renewable energy developers. I would therefore suggest the creation of a Renewable Energy Investment Fund (REIF) to provide access to low interest and capital outlay for renewable energy products.
Lack of Awareness – there is a need to scale-up awareness campaign on the efficiency and long-term cost benefit of renewable energy. Hence, the need for a sector policy and communication strategy promoting a nation-wide sensitisation campaign on available renewable energy options in Sierra Leone. In a country with limited number of households connected to the grid, awareness raising on the cost and efficiency benefit of RE products would change the general perception of end-users and address the uptake challenges for solar systems especially in rural areas.
Capacity Building Support – to ensure deployment of SHS and SAS across the country, there is a need establish a National Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (NaCREEE), which would develop training curriculum, facilitate the conduct of training, certify RE technicians, and technical advice and knowledge sharing in the areas of policy and regulation, technology development and transfer. This accreditation scheme of renewable energy products and service providers would inspire public confidence on the use of renewable energy. Industry-related workshops are also a major part of REASL’s agenda, through which their esteemed members can focus on capacity building with other member companies. Such initiatives would support the strengthening of REASL in serving as focal institution for mobilizing private sector participation and coordination on off-grid investments.
Regulation and Standardization – thanks to REASL lobbying and support provided by the African Clean Energy Technical Assistance Facility (ACE/TAF) in collaboration with the Standard Bureau, technical quality requirement for solar PV is now in place following the standards of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
Monitoring – ensuring that minimum performance guideline for renewable energy systems is in place, there is need to design an assessment method, labelling equipment, operations and maintenance procedures, and environmental compliance on the deployment and or use of any renewable energy product, thereby facilitating uniformity ad ensuring standards are respected.
What trends are currently transforming the country’s energy sector and how are you responding to them?
KM: With over 85 percent of the population lacking access to electricity, the current trend and development drive is the installation of mini-grids in rural communities with support from DfID and implemented by UNOPS across the country.
Do you have any projects in the pipeline you wish to highlight?
KM: In addition to the Monthly Renewable Energy Television Talk-Show hosted by REASL, there are wide-ranging pipeline projects spearheaded by members of REASL to make available green mini-grids and isolated solar systems, to account for 37 percent of the total energy supply with 2030. This approach by REASL and developments/funding partners been implemented through the Rural Renewable Energy Project (RREP) presents a promising and least-cost effective solution to close the gap in electricity access especially for rural communities.
UNOPS – Effective 2019, UNOPS with support from DfID and in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy Mini-Grids are being installed across the country particularly in rural communities.
Sola Era – effective September 2020, Solar Era is working towards implementing a 5 megawatts Solar Energy Generation Project in Yamandu Town, Baoma Chifedom and Bo District.
Sewa Energy Resources SL Limited-SERL – On Wednesday 7th April 2021, the company handed to the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education over 20,000 Solar Lamps worth Le 4 billion (i.e. US$ 390,090.80) as support to the Flagship Free Quality Basic and Senior Secondary Education Programme of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio. This gesture is geared towards achieving Policy Cluster 1 on “Human Capital Development” of the 2019 – 2023 Medium Term National Development Plan for Sierra Leone; The Company has spent billions of Leones (i.e. Hundreds of thousands of US Dollars) in providing livelihood supports to several communities in the country especially in communities found within project operational areas; Plans are underway to commission the Betmai Hydroelectric Project with the aim to complete and have it operational in 2023, in the spirit of wanting to demonstrate commitment to meeting energy targets in the country. This energy project will generate 27 MW tapping on the Pampana River in Tonkolili district. Once implemented, the Betmai Hydroelectric facility will contribute to the overall economic development of the country by providing power to over 700,000 homes in local and neighbouring communities. This energy investment project will not only help uplift local communities, including women, children, low-income populations, and underrepresented groups by providing reliable power to schools, hospitals, businesses, and households but will also have a positive impact on the environment and boost energy generation and distribution in the country.
How do you see REASL developing over the next five years?
KM: The envisaged plan is to ensure that in the next five years, REASL becomes a dominant body that would serve as a one-stop-shop in facilitating the deployment of renewable energy across Sierra Leone. The Association would continue working closely with government counterparts, development partners, the private sector, and the MCC Unit is laying the critical foundation for business investment on energy projects that would facilitate industrialization, energy security, economic growth, and poverty reduction in Sierra Leone.
Are you optimistic about the future of renewable energies in Sierra Leone?
KM: Despite the current energy demand expectation and the energy growth demand with population growth and enterprise development, I remain optimistic nonetheless that the future for renewable energy in Sierra Leone is promising. Sierra Leone is yet to fully utilize its renewable energy potential considering the country’s hidden roaring river valleys that could generate hydropower estimated to be 5,000 Gigawatt hours (GWh) of power. This shows the country has the potential to achieve the SEforALL 92 percent national electricity access target. If harness, it is estimated that hydropower alone could generate about 90 percent of the country’s electricity need by 2030, which is very promising indeed!