Sierra Leone is slowly recovering after being in a civil war from 1991 to 2002. As a result of this war, thousands of people died and more than two-million people, about a third of the population, were displaced. The country is an extremely poor nation with tremendous inequality in income distribution. While it has substantial mineral, agricultural and fishery resources, its physical and social infrastructure still have to recover from the civil war. Serious social disorder also continues to hamper economic development.
Nearly half of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture, while manufacturing consists mainly of the processing of raw materials and light manufacturing for the domestic market. Alluvial diamond mining remains the major source of hard-currency earnings, accounting for nearly half of Sierra Leone’s exports.
The fate of the economy depends on the maintenance of domestic peace and the continued receipt of substantial aid from abroad. The military, which took over full responsibility for security following the departure of the United Nations’ peacekeepers at the end of 2005, has helped to stabilise the country. Aid is essential to offset the severe trade imbalance and supplement government revenues. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has completed a poverty reduction and growth facility programme that also helped to stabilise economic growth and reduce inflation. Political stability has led to a revival of economic activity such as the rehabilitation of bauxite and rutile mining, which are set to benefit from planned tax incentives. A number of offshore oil discoveries were announced in 2009 and 2010 – however, the development on these reserves, which could be significant, is still several years away. Sierra Leone also has potential for significant hydroelectric generation. Hydroelectricity could generate as much as 1,2GW of power.
Location: Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea and Liberia.
Climate: Tropical – it is hot and humid. The summer rainy season is from May to December and the winter dry season is from December to April.
Terrain: Coastal belt of mangrove swamps, wooded hill country, upland plateau with mountains in the east.
Elevation extremes: Lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0m. Highest point: Loma Mansa (Bintimani) 1 948m.
Natural resources: Diamonds, titanium ore, bauxite, iron ore, gold and chromite.
Land use: • Arable land: 7,95% • Permanent crops: 1,05% • Other: 91% (2005)
Natural hazards: Dry, sand-laden harmattan winds blow from the Sahara, from December to February, including sandstorm and dust storms. Current environmental issues: Rapid population growth is pressuring the environment. Over-harvesting of timber, expansion of cattle grazing and slash-and-burn agriculture have resulted in deforestation and soil exhaustion. Civil war depleted natural resources. The country also suffers from over-fishing.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $4,72-billion (2010 est.) GDP (official exchange rate): $1,905-billion (2010 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 5% (2010 est.) GDP – per capita (PPP): $900 (2010 est.)
GDP – composition by sector: • Agriculture: 51,3% • Industry: 22% • Services: 26,7%
Electricity production: 58-million kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity consumption: 53,94-million kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity exports: 0 kWh (2009 est.)
Electricity imports: 0 kWh (2009 est.)
Oil production: 25 bbl/day (2010 est.)
Oil consumption: 9 000 bbl/day (2009 est.)
Oil exports: 499,5 bbl/day (2009 est.)
Oil imports: 4,945 bbl/day (2009 est.)
Oil proved reserves: 0bbl (2011 est.)
Natural gas production: 0 cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas consumption: 0 cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas exports: 0 cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas imports: 0 cu m (2009 est.)
Natural gas proved reserves: 0 cu m (2011 est.)
Current account balance: -$277,8-million (2010 est.)
Exports: $362,9-million (2010 est.)
Export commodities: Diamonds, rutile, cocoa, coffee and fish.
Import: $735,9-million (2006)
Imports commodities: Foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels and lubricants, as well as chemicals.
Debt external: $1,61-billion (2003 est.)
Energy issues in Sierra Leone
Under the current electricity capacity constraints only 2% of households or 40 000 customers, of which most resides in or near Freetown, have access to electricity. The majority of the interior does not have access to electricity and the country’s four major cities consume 90% of the available electricity. Electricity generation, estimated at just under 40MW, falls drastically short of the estimated power requirements, which range from 300MW to 500MW for the country. Transmission poses a further challenge as the network can only support 46MW. This energy situation is a serious impediment to Sierra Leone’s economic growth, particularly in the industrial and service sectors. Furthermore, the country is also one of a small number in West Africa with some of the highest costs of electricity generation and delivery in the world.
The country experiences sunshine for the majority of the year. A study estimated the average solar radiation at 4,1 to 5,2kWh/m²/d, which indicates huge potential for solar power, but the data needs revision as calculations were made from eight sites in 1996. The economic feasibility of photovoltaic (PV) electricity needs to be further explored. The current installed capacity of solar PV is about 25kW with 60% to 80% being installed by the RCD Solar Company. It provides 120W/4kW solar systems for hospitals, schools, domestic and commercial use.
There is currently no wind-energy system in Sierra Leone and data on wind speeds across the country is rare. The existing data indicates a countrywide average speed of 3 to 5m/s. However, wind speeds of up to 12m/s seem to be possible in some areas, so wind power may offer very promising opportunities. The Ministry of Energy and Power (MEP) is encouraging studies of sites that may hold the potential for wind-power generation. With wind turbines capable of operating with low wind speeds now on the market, there is a strong potential for these systems in rural areas, especially in the north.
The biomass potential is also high, especially from forest resources, and there is 656 400 tons of crop waste annually. It is calculated that the total generation potential could be as high as 2 706GWh. The potential feedstock includes rice husks and straw. However, at the current deforestation rate and with 65% of the population living in rural areas, the harvesting of traditional fuels can lead to negative environmental, health and social impacts.
Hydroelectric potential is 1 513MW from roughly 27 different sites – however, nearly all suffer from enormous flow variation between the wet and dry seasons. Only two of the 27 sites could provide hydropower at attractive costs and with annual flow regulation while many of the rivers investigated suffice for only small to medium hydro systems.
Experts are confident that the potential for energy-efficiency in Sierra Leone is great. There is considerable room for improvement in the various energy sub-sectors. Energy constitutes a large proportion of the country’s GDP costs and a considerable percentage of household energy expenditure. Pursuing energy-efficiency measures will contribute significantly to savings. Fuel substitution could also reduce the negative impact of the use of some fuels on the environment and reduce the cost of energy services.
Based on an assessment of the existing institutional framework as well as energy demand and supply patterns, a document draft entitled The Energy Policy for Sierra Leone was produced. Up until now this draft has not been ratified by parliament. As defined in the energy policy draft document, the main policy target for electricity is to provide access for 35% of the population by 2015. According to the country’s second-generation Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for 2009 to 2011, a key government objective is the provision of a reliable power supply, moving towards a low carbon energy economy through the use of the country’s significant hydropower potential.
The government has launched a new energy sector strategy based on public and private investments, regional integration and support of policy reforms. Institutional and policy reforms will include a total effort to strengthen the financial viability of the national power authority (NPA) through reduced operational costs, tariff adjustments to better reflect changing production costs and more efficient billing methods. The short-term aim is to ensure that the NPA can purchase fuel for its existing generating facilities and pay for electricity from the Bumbuna Hydroelectric Project and other smaller hydropower projects being connected to a national grid since 2009.
The new strategy proposes to unbundle the sector, separating generation, transmission and distribution into separate entities. A new holding company would own the existing generating assets and promote independent power producers. The NPA would refocus its efforts towards transmission and distribution, billing and commercial activities. In the longer term, the government plans to further develop hydro-electric generation on the Seli River with a new facility at Yiben, which together with growth of capacity at Bumbuna could contribute over 200MW of power. In addition the government plans to join the West African Power Pool to export and import electricity. The government estimates that the current demand for electricity is 400MW, only a small proportion of which is connected to the current distribution system.
Bumbuna Hydroelectric Project
The 50MW facility at the Bumbuna hydroelectric dam, which will boost electricity generation and is intended to complement heavy fuel-oil generation to bring the total generation capacity to 74MW in 2010, became fully operational in late 2009. Funds were provided by the World Bank, the African Development Bank, Italy, OPEC, the Netherlands and the government of Sierra Leone. The project cost was $91,8-million. The second phase started in 2010 and is expected to be completed in six years.