The Gambia is at a crossroads. This territory of 2 million inhabitants spread over 11,295 km² has little electricity. Nevertheless, the country is poised to assert a geostrategic position, all along the river that bears the same name. With a 2021-2025 strategy, the Gambia is preparing to modernize. At the centre of these changes, the city of Soma is the strategic focal point of this modernization.
Currently, The Gambia is facing an electricity supply deficit. Only 56.2% of the population has access to this energy, but as always there is a considerable backlog in the rural areas, where only 13% have access to electricity. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the country has an installed capacity of 102 MW, but nearly 11 MW are needed to meet peak demand.
How to address the energy deficit?
The priority of the Gambia’s 2019-2025 roadmaps is to invest in transport and energy distribution to reduce energy losses from 22% in 2020 to 17% in 2025. It is also about lowering electricity costs from $0.26/kWh in 2020 to $0.18/kWh in 2025 and reaching the threshold of 40% renewable energy in the country’s energy mix by 2030.
In response to the Gambian energy deficit of 11 MW, the Organization for the Development of the Gambia River (OMVG) – which includes the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal – intends to deliver 14 MW of hydropower by the end of the year.
But the projects do not stop there. The Gambia should benefit from 50 MW from the Souapiti hydro plant in Guinea Conakry, as well as 34 MW from independent power producers. Thus, taking into account the current installed capacity (102 MW), the contribution of 14 MW from OMVG, and these latest figures, The Gambia should have 200 MW of electricity by 2025.
The Gambia’s strategic position
The Souapiti power plant is a Guinean pride, with a capacity of 450 MW. At its provisional inauguration last June, former President Alpha Conde expressed his satisfaction at bringing electricity to neighbouring countries, particularly Senegal. From Guinea, the electricity would pass through Guinea Bissau, Senegal and the Gambia before returning to Senegal and supplying Dakar.
With this new power line route, the Gambia becomes a strategic gateway, the fastest passage between the Guinean water tower (the future hydroelectric powerhouse of West Africa) and the Dakar metropolitan area, which has a population of more than 3 million (nearly one-fifth of the Senegalese population).
Soma, the focal point of Gambian development on a regional scale
The Gambia’s strategic location is illustrated by the presence of a new power station implemented in Soma at the end of October. The station alone is making a significant difference to The Gambia’s electrification capacity and at the same time consolidating the country’s energy future. The $700 million Soma station is being built under the OMVG to receive power from a 225 kV power line. A high-powered power line capable of handling large volumes of electricity, at lower costs, from Guinea’s hydroelectric plants – Kaleta (240 MW) and Souapiti (450 MW) – in particular.
A 150 MWp solar power plant
The city of Soma also stands out for its proposed 150 MWp solar power plant, which is expected to have a storage capacity of 100 to 150 MWh. The estimated value of the project is at least $130 million. The construction of the power plant should be carried out in two phases: the first one designates the implementation of a power of 80 MW, while the second one adds 70 MW.
This realization is part of the medium-term projects (2023-2029) of the ECOWAS Power Exchange System (WAPS). The land that will receive the solar power plant covers 225 hectares and is located near the Soma electrical substation. This proximity reveals the objective of this solar power plant: to electrify the Gambia and above all… to export the energy necessary for the stability of the regional network.
Thus, in Soma, Gambia is making a place for itself in West African geopolitics.
By Jean Gecit,
PhD in History of Renewable Energy