GET FiT project experiences from 2017
Some of the risks of timely and adequate grid connection across the portfolio were realised as the first hydropower projects were commissioned in 2017. There were wide variations in the ease of grid connection for the projects commissioned in the past year. Rwimi SHP in Kasese and Tororo Solar were connected to the grid without delays or incident. In Tororo, line outages throughout December 2017 amounted to only 46 minutes in total, an indication of relatively strong grid performance in Eastern Uganda.
We present here some of the challenges faced by selected projects commissioned during the reporting period. It is hoped that these experiences and lessons learned will benefit other projects yet to commission.
The construction of the 6.5 MW Muvumbe SHP in Kabale was completed in March 2017 when the project successfully synchronised to the national grid. Prior to that, the project required the construction of a new 33 kV line to connect the plant to the existing grid, approximately 6 km away. The line construction was implemented by REA. However, the implementation of the line was plagued by serious challenges that required proactive engagements by the developer, ERA, KfW and the GET FiT Secretariat.
The main challenge came from the local population who demanded, through their local leadership and the area Member of Parliament, that villages in the path of the evacuation line be electrified before the line can be built. Indeed, line construction was halted for a while as discussions and sensitisation of the community were ongoing. The community was informed that the developer’s generation licence did not give mandate for construction of distribution infrastructure. The line works only proceeded after assurances from REA that distribution transformers would be installed to supply the villages in the near future.
As more projects proceed towards commissioning, this scenario is likely to be played out again in the local communities. Discussions between REA and GET FiT development partners are underway on how rural communities close to renewable energy projects could be electrified.
Siti I SHP
The 33 kV power evacuation line for the 6.1 MW Siti I SHP was completed well before the project was commissioned in April 2017. However, challenges emerged thereafter when the line could not fully evacuate power from the generating plant. Under voltages were recorded at the point of grid connection causing problems of fluctuating reliability so that less than 50% of the plant’s capacity could be evacuated.
Through the work of the SPCC, technical simulations of the distribution network in the project area identified the necessary interventions, including the installation of switch-in capacitor banks and the improvement of the protection scheme of the backbone network. The required installations were successfully completed by UEDCL and Umeme, with coordination by ERA. By December 2017, the project was able to evacuate at full capacity. The effective coordination by the different stakeholders was crucial towards reaching solutions for the network challenges faced by the Siti I and Muvumbe SHPs. Developer proactivity was equally important in highlighting the issues.
The 9.6 MW Nkusi SHP is expected to be commissioned during Q2 2018. A new 3 km line is being constructed by REA to connect the plant to the existing grid. However, due to weaknesses of the general distribution grid in the project area, this grid extension will only have capacity to evacuate a maximum of 45% of the generated power from the project. This will result in potential deemed energy obligations to GoU.
In order to mitigate the anticipated deemed energy, the developer has taken initiative to solicit additional funding for the construction of new lines to strengthen the grid in the project area, to facilitate full evacuation. The preliminary line designs have been completed for approval by the responsible agencies. If approved, the developer will be responsible for the construction of the planned distribution infrastructure. Discussions with funding agencies and the GoU are ongoing to confirm the plans. The timeline for implementation is approximately 6 months. The proactive problem solving by the private developer will most likely reduce the magnitude of deemed energy obligations to GoU due to the weak local grid. While this case is certainly an exception, in light of the challenges currently experienced, a discussion on shifting obligations for grid connection away from government agencies to developers may be interesting for the future - to determine the advantages and pitfalls of such a policy change.