One of the most fundamental constraints on job creation and poverty reduction in Sierra Leone is the limited availability of electric power. The country’s energy sector is characterised by an over-dependence on fuel wood and a low per capita total energy supply, 0.20 ton of oil equivalent (toe) compared to 0.70 toe for the African Continent. Around 4.2 million cubic metres of fuel wood are collected from the country’s forests to provide 80% of the country’s total energy supply. Seventy percent of the fuel wood is utilised in households for cooking and the balance in fish processing, bakeries, potteries and other small-scale industries. Before final utilisation, 30 per cent of the amount of fuel wood is converted into charcoal during which up to 75% of the wood’s energy content is lost. The balance (20%) of the country’s total energy supply is essentially derived from 200,000 tons of imported petroleum products.
The National Power Authority (NPA), which is State owned, operates a major electricity network in the Freetown area and a smaller one in the towns of Bo and Kenema. NPA has around 50,000 customers and the percentage of the population having access to electricity in the country is around 10%. A thermal power station with available capacity of 27 MW supplies electricity to the Freetown area where the unconstrained base demand is 34 MW. The gap in generating capacity coupled with the unreliability of the generators leads to power outages with customers being supplied an average of 12 hours over 2 days. Further, the transmission and distribution system is inefficient resulting in 33% electricity losses between generation and utilisation. On per capita basis, electricity production in Sierra Leone is 22 kWh compared to the African average of 512 kWh. To increase the country’s electricity supply, the Government is in the process of restarting the Bumbuna Hydroelectric Project whose implementation was suspended at the onset of the civil war in April 1997. The project will provide the country with an additional generation capacity of 50 MW at a cost of 6 US cents per kWh, which is lower than the present cost of electricity generation in the Freetown area (11 US cents per kWh).
Sierra Leone has to make significant investment in energy and the power sector. As of 2004, there were no more than 40,000 registered customers for the National Power Authority (NPA), most of them in Freetown. Urban consumers therefore still rely upon charcoal and kerosene for cooking and lighting, while the well-to-do families install their own generators. Electricity consumption in 2004 was estimated to be only 55 kilowatt-hours per-capita (kwh/capita) compared to the regional average of 495 kilowatt-hours per-capita and 8,503 kwh/capita in the OECD countries.