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The Mt. Coffee project after “Ebola free”- certification

Reports from international media suggest that the Liberian government indeed are looking after their interests related to their major development goals, making sure that their priority investments are properly managed and moved forward, with the following “Press Release” being publicised in international media on 14th May, 2015:

High-level visit to Voith: Liberian Energy Ministergets information about hydropower technology

Last Thursday, Liberian Energy Minister Patrick Sendolo visited the technology group Voith to find out about the company's hydropower offering. In the process, the Minister also learned more about the status of the Mount Coffee modernisation, which is currently Liberia's only hydropower project.

“I am delighted to have the opportunity to get my own impression of current activities on the Mount Coffee hydropower project. Following the modernisation, the power plant will supply more than a million people in Liberia with clean electricity from renewable resources,” said Energy Minister Sendolo during the visit.

The high-ranking visitor was received by ChristerParkegren, CEO of Voith Hydro Heidenheim. “Over recent years, Liberia has suffered considerable setbacks due to civil war and the Ebola crisis. So we are all the more delighted to be able to make a major contribution to the country's economic development,” said ChristerParkegren.

“Following the Ebola epidemic, we are now getting ready to resume on-site work on the Mount Coffee project and are in close consultation with the Liberian Government in this regard,” adds Parkegren. Start-up of the modernized Mount Coffee hydropower plant is scheduled for the end of 2016.

For the project in Liberia, Voith Hydro is modernising the Francis turbines and supplying new generators, the control technology and the electrical and mechanical power plant equipment, which will increase capacity by a third. In addition, Voith is currently implementing various projects in Africa, including the supply of equipment for the Cambambe II hydropower plant in Angola and modernising the Inga I hydropower plant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

All in all, Voith can look back on many years of involvement on the African continent. Although there is considerable hydropower potential in Africa, estimated at around 300 Gigawatts, only around 26 Gigawatts of this potential is actually being utilized at present.

On the importance of hydropower

Hydropower is the largest, oldest and most reliable form of renewable energy generation. Worldwide it makes an indispensable contribution to a stable power supply and thus to economic and social development – in industrialized countries and also in regions seeing strong growth. In addition, hydropower contributes significantly to climate-friendly energy production. Since the early days of hydropower exploitation Voith has been a leading supplier of this technology and is constantly developing it further.

From a historic perspective:

The Mt Coffee Hydro Electric project, first developed in the late 196o’ies, to be the “back bone” in the Liberian energy production, the entire history is not quite clear with regards to why the present site of Mt Coffee, actually was selected for this very much important project. The main reason for having said that is the fact that Mt Coffee was designed and built as a “run of the river” power station, this meaning that the installation had no or very much limited storage capacity for the huge influx of water during the “rain season” and more or less no water during the “dry season”.

The result being that during the rains, more or less 60 % of the water reaching the power station was directly wasted thru the way of the “spill ways”, and actually thereby by-passing the turbines that produce the energy to generate electricity. As a result of this the “dry season” part of the year always experience a lack of energy, energy that needed to be supplied from other means of energy production sources to meet the Liberian overall demand.

Diesel and Heavy fuel oil powered power stations were developed, to make up for the dry season short coming in energy production from Mt Coffee, with at time only one (1) or at time not even one (1) turbine being able to run and produce energy to the grid, due to the fact that the water level did not allow for the safe running of the station.

The energy production from fossil fuels like diesel and heavy fuel oil (HFO), was of course quite costly, with all fuel being imported to Liberia, with complete dependency to the selected suppliers and the general vulnerability to the global price fluctuation and availability of these products.

In addition energy production from these fossil fuel powered power station, is done by the use of engines similar to what is used for large size ships and marine vessels, such machines need parts and maintenance to enable operation.

This kind of operation require a very good management of the resources and maybe most important that the energy produced is indeed paid being for, as else the ‘cash flow” will rapidly go negative and the adequate operational procedures simply can’t be maintained. 

This is also what actually happened in the past, with the overall revenue from energy sales only accounted for about 30 % or less of what was actually being produced, meaning that the fuel, spare / replacement parts and technical services, simply could not be paid for and the end result of course being that the power stations wereended up to be mismanaged and destroyed, already within quite limited operational hours.
The advantage of hydro electric energy production is the fact that the water is actually more or less a free source of energy, the investment in establishing these facilities of course comes with a quite huge amount of funding being required initially, but then thereafter, with a minimum of maintenance and a relatively long life span for the installation.

This being quite different from fossil fuel power stations that will required regular maintenance and fuel, lubricant and spare parts (all being imported and need to be paid for) for their entire life span a life span that is at best 15 -20 % of that of a hydro electric installation.
So let’s learn from the past not to repeat the earlier mistakes and make sure that the Liberian hydro electric potential is now being properly managed and developed, this to secure the Liberian long term energy requirements and also to potentially enable energy sales to the neighbouring countries in West Africa.

The Liberian hydro power potential is estimated to be around 1000 -1500 MW, if all already mapped out and partially studied site are being developed, this is a huge amount of energy for a country of the size of Liberia.

The present overall energy demand maybe require 200 -300 MW, if the transmission and distribution systems were built and developed to actually allow transfer of that amount of energy all around the perimeters of Liberia.

We are of course right now far away from having a transmission and distribution system that can facilitate such energy transfer, but some recent indications are suggesting that this might change rather sooner than later.

The WAPP Project looking at the inter connection of the West African power grid is gaining momentum and will soon reach the tendering stage for the actual works to begin to build these transmission lines, that will connect Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone with the rest of the eastern parts of West Africa through power lines already being available in Ivory Coast, such power lines being constructed already some time back to reach quite close to the Liberian border.

With this inter- connection transmission line in place, the Liberian hydro electric potential will then of course become available to the entire region being connected to this power grid, something that of course should make it easier to attract investments to develop such hydro electric potential fully out for the benefit of all countries being connected.

This would in turn if this indeed would happen also become a source of income for Liberia as long as they can produce more energy than what is actually internally consumed.

Hydro Electric power production is a clean and renewable means of energy production and very much in line with the global efforts to reduce the co2 emissions and thereby also long term to contribute to a overall cleaner and more healthy environment worldwide.

About the company being awarded the Mt Coffee Electro / Mechanical contract:

Voith sets standards in the energy, oil & gas, paper, raw materials and transport & automotive markets. Founded in 1867, Voith today has more than 39,000 employees and earns 5.3 billion euros in sales. It has locations in over 50 countries in all regions of the world and is one of the largest family-owned companies in Europe.

In addition, Voith is currently implementing various projects in Africa, including the supply of equipment for the Cambambe II hydropower plant in Angola and modernising the Inga I hydropower plant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

All in all, Voith can look back on many years of involvement on the African continent. Although there is considerable hydropower potential in Africa, estimated at around 300 Gigawatts, only around 26 Gigawatts of this potential is actually being utilized at present.

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