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What’s causing the ‘dumsor’ blackouts? – DW – 04/02/2024

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As night falls near the town of Tamale in northern Ghana, Rakiya Mumuni scrambles to find a candle. Once the single light is flickering in her small kitchen, Rakiya can begin cooking.

“Sometimes we use our phones but because we were not aware [of a pending power outage], my phone is dead and I have to depend on this candle,” she told DW.

There’s been an electricity outage in Rakiya’s Gumani neighborhood since morning, so she hasn’t been able to charge her cellphone.

Even Ghana’s parliament had its lights turned off after the state electricity supplier said it was owed over $1 million in unpaid billsImage: Isaac Kaledzi/DW

Ghanaian neighborhoods like Rakiya’s have been experiencing prolonged electricity outages over the past few weeks.

It’s part of a nationwide power crisis that affects not only residential consumers like Rakiya but also businesses — big and small.

By the roadside in Tamale, the power outage has left many welders idle. As a result, Alhassan Abdul Rahaman, for one, has lost work.

“One military man came last Friday for us to make a window for him. We gave him [a set] time to come back for it,” Rahaman told DW. “But due to the ‘dumsor’ we couldn’t deliver it and the man was about to attack us.”

‘Dumsor’ — a term in Ghana’s Akan language that translates to ‘power cut’ — has become shorthand for describing Ghana’s electricity woes, in the same way people in South Africa refer to ‘loadshedding.’

South Africa’s electricity crisis cripples economy

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What’s causing the power outages?

The local electricity regulator blames the power cuts on overloaded transformers. But experts say it is partly due to the country’s inability to pay private electricity suppliers, who provide the bulk of Ghana’s electricity.

The Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), the country’s state power company, owes over $1.7 billion (€1.6 billion) to these suppliers.

And the sum of unpaid bills has become so vast that power suppliers have often refused to continue providing electricity. 

The Ghanaian parliament is among those in arrears. In March, it was plunged into darkness over a debt of $1.8 million, according to the ECG.

Salifu Mubarik, an economist at the University for Development Studies in Tamale, said it will take urgent and deliberate investment to get the country out of the situation.

“Looking at the current debt we have accumulated as a country pending the restructuring that is still ongoing, I doubt whether the government can meet the demands of independent power producers,” Mubarik told DW 

“The best thing the government can do is to renegotiate with them.”

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Return to power cuts

Mineral rich Ghana seems in danger of falling back into a situation like that of the period between 2012 and 2016, when it faced a grave power crisis.

The situation has been relatively stable for nearly a decade — but it is beginning to deteriorate again, with many blaming the current threat on poor governance.

Despite the power woes, Ghana is not short of natural resources, boasting three hydro-electric dams: Akosombo, Kpong and Bui.

It also has significant offshore oil and gas reserves, though these have yet to be fully exploited.  

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 63% of Ghanaian electricity is generated though natural gas, with 34% coming from hydropower.

Despite this, a majority of Ghanaians lack a steady supply of electricity, especially in rural areas.

Ghana is beginning to harness its offshore oil and gas reserves but these have not yet produced enough energy to cover the country’s power needsImage: Berlin Producers

‘Tragic consequences’

In 2021, the IEA reported that the average Ghanaian consumed 0.572 megawatt-hours of electricity, compared 5.924 megawatt-hours for the average German.

Still, a majority of Ghanaians do not have a steady supply of electricity, especially in rural areas. Poor maintainence of existing electricity infrastructure, and Ghana’s current economic downturn have been partialy blamed for the blackouts. 

And the power cuts have also led to individual tragedy.

Last week, Ghanaian media reported that a 24-year-old mother blamed a power outage at the Tema General Hospital for the death of her 3-day-old baby.

While health officials later denied that the child’s death was the result of a power cut or hospital equipment not functioning, the story still shocked ordinary Ghanaians, like Irene Dery, who lives in Tamale.

“When I saw the video of the baby dying at the Tema hospital, I became so devastated and so depressed that I asked myself — where is this country heading?” she told DW.

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Increased demand for power

According to Ghana’s Energy Commission, electricity consumption in the residential sector has been steadily increasing at the rate of 4.3% annually over the past two decades, partly due to rapid urbanization and population growth.

And this year, northern Ghana in particular has experienced heatwaves. Engineer Issahaku Mubarik, an energy expert at the University for Development Studies in Tamale, said ordinary people have been investing in ways to mitigate the hot temperatures — often in ways that require even more electricity.

“This has made a lot of people switch to air conditioners, and more air conditioners mean our electricity usage will spike,” Mubarik told DW.

“Infrastructure planning should have projected that and made…

Read More: What’s causing the ‘dumsor’ blackouts? – DW – 04/02/2024

2024-04-02 20:19:06

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