Micro hydropower the way forward

Transport PNG

Electricity supply in Papua New Guinea is currently unreliable, expensive and insufficient says, an energy researcher.
Nosare Maika a lecturer attached with Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Technology in Lae, said the problems can be attributed to a number of factors which included:
n High transmission and distribution losses
n Non-rapid expansion of the national grid
n High cost of power consumption
n Non-implementation of energy policy
n Inadequate power generating capacity He said the unreliability inadequate development of the PNG’s potential hydroelectric capacity.
The insufficient electricity supply imposes a number of costs on society which included; equity costs, impacts on health and environment and economic losses.
“Approximately 40 per cent of electricity comes from hydropower, yet a person only consumes 2 per cent of electricity. The vast majority of the country’s total energy supply comes from non-traditional sources such as wood and agricultural waste.
“Traditional energy sources as petroleum and coal provide another 8 per cent. Thus, despite the country’s vast hydroelectric potential and the large share of electricity met by hydropower, the overall energy portfolio for hydropower represents a negligible portion of the overall energy profile of PNG.
“As solar, wind, thermal and other renewable energy lacks clear strategic development plans, hydro-power is expected to drive current and future renewable energy generation, as evidenced by the launch of several new hydro projects in recent years.
As per the PNG government’s ‘Vision 2050 Development Strategic Plan’, the government intends to increase electricity accessibility from  the current 13 per cent to 70 per cent of households by 2030.
“According to the Asian Development Bank, PNG has overall theoretical hydro power potential of 10,000 Megawatt (MW), however at present power generation capacity is 580MW. It will need an estimated 2000MW of installed capacity by 2030 to keep pace with government policy targets,” he said.
Maika said the present capacity of power generation is insufficient to meet domestic energy demand, let alone serve as a potential source of export revenue to boost PNG’s struggling economy.
“Despite having significant commercially feasible hydropower potential, PNG has developed only a fraction of its realisable hydropower potential. For example, residents in Port Moresby and Lae cities experience power outages several times a day for up to 14 hours during the dry season due to “load shedding,” or planned power cuts.
“PNG’s domestic consumer tariff in particular is the highest in the Asia-Pacific region. This has an impact on struggling person who, upon gaining access to electricity, unable to enjoy the full scope of it. As the population is surpassing to 8 million, the country is already facing a severe energy shortage, particularly in rural areas, thus suppressing relevant economic development.
“Developing PNG hydroelectric potential not only satisfy domestic energy demand and create opportunities for domestic growth and development, but also provide additional revenue by exporting electricity to other neighbouring Pacific Island nations,” he said.
Almost 85 per cent of the population of PNG lives in rural areas that lack access to the country’s national grid. Between rural and urban populations, disparity in access is stark, with almost 80 per cent of the urban having access to electricity, however in rural areas is only less than 3 percent.
Environment and health impacts
As a result of poor connectivity, rural and semi –urban communitiesrely on firewood and other traditional fuels for cooking and heating.
Relying on biomass as a primary source of energy is impacting forests and is leading to increasing carbon dioxide emissions. Deforestation has become a growing problem in rural PNG, already 2 per cent of the forest is gone.
In addition to the environmental impacts associated with a dependence on biomass for fuel, there are adverse health outcomes that disproportionately affect rural PNG.
In rural PNG, fuel wood supplies about 86 per cent of the total energy requirement, and is supplemented by forest products, agricultural residues, and petroleum products.
Economic impacts In a 2016 overview of PNG’s present investment climate, over 86 per cent of the firms suffered power outages and on average firms suffered 60 outages per month each lasting 6 hours. These outages are costly to the private sector, resulting in lossesof 20 per cent of annual sales. Further, PNG lacks fossil fuel reserves of its own, and imports 13 per cent of fossil fuel from Australia, Singapore and China.
There has been a steady increase in the quantity of petroleum purchased annually, and this increasing dependency coupled with rising fuel price in the international market is severely impacting the already fragile economy of the country. Although around 50 per cent of petroleum imports are used for transportation, and would therefore not be offset by developing hydropower resources, the other 50 per cent that goes to residential, commercial and public services would be offset by substituting hydropower for petroleum.
Therefore, the long-term implications of continued fossil fuel dependence serve as further rationale to increase hydroelectric capacity.
Implications for development
Harnessing hydroelectric potentialwill not only provide PNG with a more reliable source of electricity, it would also address the costs currently borne by the population. Rural electrification could mitigate national inequities by bringing health and economic well-being to millions of Papua New Guineans.
In addition to domestic benefits of hydroelectric development, surplus energy harnessed from hydroelectric projects can be sold to generate export revenue. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), between 2008 and 2035, China and India’s share of world energy consumption will jump from 21 per cent to 31 per cent. China is investing in a number of hydro developments which will benefit PNG.
Development of hydroelectric potential in PNG is not a question of if, but rather when, and by whom.
The potential for poorly planned or executed hydroelectric projects runs a significant risk and necessitates a strategy for development that will cause minimal environmental damage in PNG. This analysis will attempt to identify the development strategy that addresses the supply and demand disparity for electricity in the short term while incurring minimal economic, political and environmental costs.
Future plans
To increase power accessibility from 13 per cent to 70 per cent of households by 2030 is a huge challenge. This will mean a massive 2000MW of power that is 130 MW per year for the next 15 years. How should we start making some attempts?
Geospatial study
A geospatial study is needed to assess electricity demand across the country , analysing the best available technologies for the individual locations , as well as translating the analysis into an investment prospectus, which will provide the costing to build those power stations, as well as grid, off-grid and pre-electrification projects. This however, calls for research collaboration between engineering, surveying, economic and government expertise.
Site specific data relevant for energy development
There is a need for on – site data acquisition from gagging /catchment and micro weather stations located at various development sites across the country. Useful data such as hydrological, topographical, weather data, environmental and economic data are vital for hydro power development.
Due to inconsistency in weather patterns, site- specific data provides confidence and reliability to any development aspirations. The World Bank has funded a study on wind resource mapping and if completed can be useful for various applications.
Privatisation and Public Private Partnership
In order to begin seeing improvement in power accessibility to 70 per cent there has to be increased users of national power grid. The number of off grid hydro power systems can be increased through public – private partnership on major energy projects.
Increased funding for energy research
Energy Research and Development initiatives have to be funded and supported by the PNG government as a sustainable long term initiative.
The current status indicates there are no such support bases and there is lack of energy research facilities.
Nation-wide micro hydro power for rural economic development
The government should pursue a nation-wide micro-hydroelectric development and have its rural areas connected with power while taking political steps to effectively build long term economic projects to go with it. Expanding micro-hydro initiatives such as the Rural Energy Development Programme (REDP) or a Nation-Wide Micro Hydro Power Programme (NWMHPP) can
address PNG’s overall economic development as well as rural-urban disparities in connectivity, health, and economic outcomes. The Micro hydro technology is commercially available and PNG has vast water resources to benefit from it.


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