Interconnectivity is key to powering emerging nations

Transmission and distribution power networks are key to connecting communities from different regions and countries. Grid interconnectors are essential to any power pooling initiatives within regions.

Transmission and distribution networks are key to electrifying nations – and currently, regional integration dominates the agenda of policy makers in emerging markets and donor finance institutions. The focus is on development infrastructure that will bind communities, regions and even countries, to ultimately speed intra-regional investment, development, trade and sustainable growth.


“The backbone of these plans is the interconnectors that facilitate power trading between regions and countries. Strategic transmission corridors bode significant opportunities and benefits to reduce the large capital spend needed by each region to strengthen their independent generation capacities by promoting improved collaborated planning of integrated and large centralised power stations that serve bigger markets,” says Andrew Galbraith, Director, Power - Transmission and Distribution, WSP in Africa. “And, this will pave the way forward for further development, as well as other cross-boundary critical primary infrastructure, such as water and transport projects.”


Juan David Martínez, Area Manager, WSP in Colombia, agrees and suggests that while power trading in emerging markets still has big challenges ahead, due mainly to insufficient infrastructure networks, there are pockets of excellence that demonstrate political will to arrest the situation.

Communities involved in the new Colombia line
More than 150 More than 150
Countries participating in the Southern African Power Pool
12 12
Length of line between Zambia and DRC
Around148 km Around148 km

Power pooling on a macro level

Andrew Galbraith indicates that the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) is a prime example of an organisational body that is driving a number of transmission grid interconnector projects.


“The aim with these projects is to link or reinforce and strengthen power interconnections between various countries, including Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  The intention is to create a large power pool that will offer those countries with a power deficit the facility to import power, and those with excess power various options for exporting their surplus energy.”


To succeed in connecting power systems together requires entities such as the SAPP Co-ordination Centre to provide oversight. The Centre has numerous responsibilities, such as monitoring the operation of the power pool, and reporting on the control performance criteria to all the Operating Members. The SAPP Co-ordination Centre also has the onus of evaluating the impact of planned future projects on the operation of the power pool.


“One such project is the proposed 330 kV interconnector between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which WSP has been appointed by the SAPP to develop,” says Andrew Galbraith.


The project is financially backed by the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the AREP programme, as it is recognised that a strong transmission link will help both countries improve the security and reliability of their power networks, and that this will aid in fostering economic development and regional integration. The project also aims to support the development of an efficient and competitive regional power market to reduce electricity prices in the region.


Options being considered for this transmission line are to connect Kolwezi in DRC to the district of Solwezi in Zambia, through the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) network at Lumwana or Kalumbila Substation and the future Société Nationale d’Electricité (SNEL) network at Kolwezi NRO substation.


A team of WSP engineers from the UK, South Africa and Canada are in the process of undertaking a three-stage feasibility study to develop options and recommend a preferred solution for the interconnector. Work being provided includes initial assessment of the routes and substations, data gathering, financial and economic analysis, detailed route surveys and detailed design and specifications. All three phases will be completed within an 18-month programme of works finalising in 2019.


“The electricity transmission expansion in sub Saharan Africa is a specialist area for our business, as we have been implementing schemes for 50 years. We hope to continue to grow our strong reputation and our exemplary staff abilities”, says Paul Glendinning, WSP Head of Networks in the UK.

Sharing resource across boundaries

An interconnected power pool is a complex system that requires careful planning and development. By its very definition, a power pool involves the connection of a number of networks that may have been operated in isolation in the past. It also requires an appetite – and significant political will – to work together, towards common interest and a shared ideal.


“In Africa, there are several more developments underway and geared at bolstering power pooling on the continent. Our global teams of power generation and distribution experts have been fortunate to have been involved – at various levels and stages – with a number of cross-border and countrywide grid interconnector projects across Africa, says Andrew Galbraith.


African states are not the only nations who have come to realise the esteem opportunities that can be opened by embracing power pooling. These strategic and integrated projects also promote the introduction of more renewables by being able to better manage their intermittent factors. For instance, power can be dispatched quickly from areas with high solar and wind potential to wherever needed.


Colectora Project in Northern Colombia, for example, includes a new 500kV substation and two transmission lines - 110km between Colectora and Cuestecitas, and 247km between Cuestecitas and La Loma. A team of engineers from WSP in Colombia was appointed as the advisor to the developer, Grupo Energía de Bogotá, who won the bid to deliver on this project by 2022. These lines are also conceived to interconnect future wind farms with the transmission grid of the country.


“As the advisors to the developer, a team of engineers from WSP in Colombia are undertaking the Design and Environmental Studies for the transmission lines - including evaluating the environment and socioeconomic impact of possible alternative routes – and the environmental licensing,” says Juan David Martínez.


Connecting Communities

The project team has identified that the transmission line route between Colectora and Cuestecitas will go through the territories of approximately 130 ethnic groups, while the line between Cuestecitas and La Loma will go through the territories of 66 further ethnic groups -  bringing sustainable power source to the transmission grid. The lines and environmental studies also involve 4 groups of an area that is inhabited by Wuiwas, Kankuamos, Coguis and Arhuacos, which are traditional Colombian tribes that live around the Sierra Nevada. We expect that more than 150 communities will be involved during the process of environmental licensing, overall.


“Much of the population in the Northern Colombian region is geographically dispersed. This project will actively create jobs and contribute to skills development and knowledge sharing transfers, through the construction of the substation and the transmission lines,” says Juan David Martinez.


“Additionally, it opens immense opportunities to attract further investment and industry development in the region, which will contribute to the ongoing sustainable development. And, as part of our involvement with this project, we undertook a community outreach and engagement programme. We were able to leverage on our team indigenous translators to help communicate with each of the communities involved and we were able to gain a deeper understanding of their views on the project, and how they perceived that it would impact on their territories,” continues Juan David Martinez.


Attending to the critical power supply challenges relies on more than just power generation, but also on the ability to effectively transmit and distribute it to where it is needed. Across the world, nations are quickly realising the benefits that can be gained from pooling energy resources, and transmission and distribution interconnect projects are now receiving the attention they deserve.

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