Todéman F. Assan is the Head of the Ministry of Energy, Water and Mines in Benin. Benin is importantly situated in West Africa and is where the HQ for the West African Power Pool is based. In this interview, Mr. Assan discusses the West African renewable energy landscape, the challenges that have to be overcome for its development and the process of formulating solar projects across this region. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mr. Assan! Topics to be discussed:
[1:40] A Brief introduction to Mr. Assan
[2:40] What is the current energy mix of exports versus imports in Benin
[7:20] What are the challenges of building out the transmission and distribution lines in urban areas?
[8:30] Are there any government plans to increase Benin's solar generation capacity?
[13:20] What are the tariff rates for Benin's existing solar projects?
[15:05] Is the financing for long-term renewable energy projects guaranteed by the Benin government?
[21:13] What is Benin's role in the West African Power Pool
[25:46] What does the future of solar energy look West Africa, given the mission of the WAPP
00:00 Karan Takhar
Hello, everyone. This is Karan Takhar and welcomes to the Zenergy Podcast. Over the past decade, India has done an impressive job of integrating renewable energy into its energy mix. For this Fulbright podcast series, I sought to investigate the enabling factors and potential of India's global leadership in renewable energy, with the focus on solar. This Fulbright series is broken down into Four Seasons. This season we capture the views of high-level officials of the Indian Government in energy delegates from African countries looking to India's support. We'll try and understand how India's continued progress in renewable energy development can improve its leadership position in the world.
In this episode, I'll be speaking with Todéman, a son, the head of the Energy Ministry in Benin. Benin is a country of 11 million people, of which 53% live in rural areas. Let's hear from a conversation with Mr. Assan, who gives some nice insights into why Benin is important for the West African power markets. So, Mr. Sun, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me and for people listening. Can you please introduce yourself and what your current position is in Benin, as well as some of the previous positions you held? Can you talk a little bit about those just to get an introduction?
01:59 Todéman F. Assan
Thank you very much. Then my name is Todéman Assan. So awesome. I'm the Director General of Energy resources at the Ministry of Energy in Benin. Before this position, I was the director of new and renewable energy, and before that, I was a director of energy efficiency. Add the urgency of rural electrification and energy efficiency in Benin. I'm a master. I'm engineer in energy with and master’s degree in environment. How do you satisfy our need in electricity? We have some importation We have some importation from Ghana from Nigeria, and we have national production. Our national production now it's from our thermal unit for 127 megawatts, and from several smaller, some smaller units of production from 30 megawatts. We have also production in combination with toggle for the ECB Electricity community of Benin, which is an organization between the banner and to go to all these electricity. But what now this institution is not for electricity production but it will be only for transportation. Then we have from that that that production is idle hydro production. We have 32.5 years for Burning and 32.5 for to go.
04:06 Karan Takhar
What is the main reason for why the electrification in the urban areas is not maybe 80-90%?
04:16 Todéman F. Assan
OK, the first problem is that the problem we faced before 2016 we don't have national production, electricity production, and we didn't develop some projects which gonna help us to grow the rates of electricity. Our line for distribution is very old, and it just now we implement some projects to grow the rate.
04:47 Karan Takhar
Oh, just now, some projects are underway to improve the lines.
04:52 Todéman F. Assan
Yeah, yeah, I, when I say just now, is from 2020, 2016.
05:01 Karan Takhar
OK, I see. And in terms of improving national production, are there any projects underway presently to help with this area?
05:15 Todéman F. Assan
Yeah, we have many projects to improve the production of electricity. After that, one may get 127 megawatts. I told we have over 120 MW with combined cycle, who will give us 140 megawatts. Then from 120,000,000 what we combine site we get 140 MW. We have also some IPs and dependent power products for solar energy for solar photovoltaic. It's 550 megawatts financial by the MCC Millennium Challenge Corporation. We have a 25 MW from FD French Agency for development, and that 25 will go to 50, and we have two IPs, one for five megawatts and one hour for 10 megawatts. We have three IPS, one for five megawatts and one for 15 megawatts, and 1 for 10 MW.
06:35 Karan Takhar
Can you talk about how the process works, the bidding process, the selection process for these projects, and are these projects in partnership with the government?
06:51 Todéman F. Assan
These projects are done in partnership with the government. The government make a tender International tender, and before making the tender, we have the Electricity Regulation Agency that agency have to allow us to go on in the process, and after that, we launched the tender, it gives some time to them to send our offers, and now we are we, we do it in two times the first times to get a Free Press election, and the second time they we send them the the the technical document of tender, and after that he sends us our total offer. Then we analyzed that offer to see how many enterprises we chose. But we need just two because that's 50 megawatts is not at the same place. Its far place is 2 for 10 megawatts, then 10:10, and the two for 15-15.
08:17 Karan Takhar
Yeah, when I was doing my research, I saw that these projects are spread pretty well across Bening one is in not tingle 10 MW, and then jugu tends to go out, and then Paraku and Mohican 15 MW bands. So, in terms of the tariff pricing, what are the tariff rates for these projects?
08:46 Todéman F. Assan
The tariff rate for this project will come from the proposal of the offers, and the tariff will be their main point who will advise us to choose the best proposal, then also the this offers and analyzing I can't say anything about that because I'm not in the committee who do it.
09:19 Karan Takhar
09:20 Todéman F. Assan
But finally, the tariff will be established in partnership with the Agency of Electricity Regulation.
09:30 Karan Takhar
OK, that makes sense. And who will the PPA be signed with?
09:37 Todéman F. Assan
The PPA will be signed with a national network.
09:44 Karan Takhar
Which is government owned.
09:47 Todéman F. Assan
Yes, it's the government enterprise. It's not private.
09:53 Karan Takhar
OK. And in terms of the credibility of the payment because I know from many of my conversations with energy finance years in the US one hesitation is whether the payment is secure because the projects are over such a long-time span, so in order to secure the payments is that guaranteed by the Benin government?
10:27 Todéman F. Assan
We have some kind of guarantee we can use. You have made an guarantee in our region, West Africa. You have a guarantee from the Development Bank of Africa. We have some kind of guarantee we can use for that project. We have something we call Isatty, AKA, and we have over guarantee we can use.
10:58 Karan Takhar
This has been very helpful. I just have a few more questions in terms of the key challenges for solar in Benin. What needs to happen in order for solar to become bigger in Benin?
11:15 Todéman F. Assan
Some main problem we have is we have to kind of we I will see that for occupation in two parts the first part is solar on the grid, and the second part is upgraded solar system about the solar they own grade the solar system the problem is the stability of the network of the grid you know that the storage He's just coming on the electric system, and we don't know more about that technology then if we want to have more saw on our grid we will face many problems when we cannot get electricity from solar starting by evening by 6:00 o'clock in the evening, 6:00 PM in the evening we come to get over the source of production to face our need, then the problem is that stability of the grid and how to achieve our need when we cannot get electricity from solar. The second part is the off-grid solar off-grid system. We don't have a problem about that. We can make more as you need to satisfy the needs of the population. But is the dimension we come for that is the recycling of the equipment. How to treat that equipment when they come to the end of their life solar panel how did? How could we transform them, recycle them at the end of their life? They many, many of the main problems we are thinking about from the solar in the off-grid solar system.
13:36 Karan Takhar
How to recycle the solar panel for the buyer.
13:40 Todéman F. Assan
How to recycle solar panels? How to recycle solar batteries? We are searching for solutions. That's our question how to solve that problem? Yeah, we got one great market. We have a policy about upgrade system.
13:59 Karan Takhar
Can you talk a little bit about this?
14:03 Todéman F. Assan
Oh yeah, upgrade policy doesn't let that you can make upgrade the system in the area which is more than 7 kilometers of the grade. Then when we have one area with which distance is less than 7 kilometers, you cannot make an upgrade system, but when the area is more than 7 kilometers to the grade, you can make upgrade system. You have two ways to make upgrade system. We can send a letter and announce your interest to do it, and you sign your project, we analyze the project, and we allow you to invest that is the 1st way. The 2nd way is we can launch tender, and you will submit your offer, and after analyzing all the offers, you will choose the best one to get from the area to electrify.
15:20 Karan Takhar
Very helpful. And just two more last questions. The West African power pool will be headquartered. The control center will be based in Benin, which means Benin is very important in the West African power markets. Can you talk a little bit about Benin's role in the West African power pool?
15:50 Todéman F. Assan
OK. Thank you very much for that question. Benin is letting the platform of the WAP, the West African Power Pool because the discussion and the Communication center of the West African Power Pool are in establishing in dinner we have several projects from the WAP which will be implemented in a few times, and we have offered for other projects which are in preparing to found financial the WAP is not in charge to make a production the WAP works to perform the transportation line of electricity, but the production of electricity in charge of each country or some IPP which is sell the electricity through the transportation line which will be assisted then we have some opportunity there for each country of ECHO S for also the private sector who want to invest in electricity in unit production in each country of Equus?
17:28 Karan Takhar
Understood. So, when the generation comes out, who do they sign the contracts with to then deliver the electricity? Is it signed by what? Or is it signed by the individual government of the country?
17:49 Todéman F. Assan
The contract will be signed by individual government countries.
17:55 Karan Takhar
And is the transmission line that well connected to every country's major urban center, or what exactly does the transmission line connect?
18:13 Todéman F. Assan
The transmission line will collect all the countries, all the equals country. The development of National Grid is in charge of the country and will only develop the connexion line in the country.
18:32 Karan Takhar
OK, So what will only develop the connexion line from one country National Grid? They'll connect the grid to another country's national.
18:43 Todéman F. Assan
Do I have that country? Yes, yes.
18:46 Karan Takhar
And so, in Benin, what exactly does the control center do?
18:54 Todéman F. Assan
OK. Do you know when you have an interconnected grid and some units for electricity production? You cannot accept all the production on the grid at the same time. It depends on the quantity depend of the quality of electricity. It depends on the price. Then that center will announce to each country What is the price of the electricity time on time? What is the quantity of electricity in production in all the countries, and each country will ask for some electricity? Maybe Benning can ask for some electricity from IPP, or from Togo, or from Ninja and stop national production if importation is the price of importation is less than the price of national production. Then that center will give some information, and who will help us to choose from where we can buy our electricity time on time?
20:02 Karan Takhar
OK. That makes a lot of sense, and yeah. Mr. Assan, thank you so much. My final question is, what are your thoughts in terms of the future of solar energy in West Africa?
20:22 Todéman F. Assan
Solar energy will go ahead because many systems are in development now to facilitate using of solar energy. If you have a good technical aspect on storage, if we have now, we are doing a study about storage. We are doing study to know how we can use storage as the source of production because when you have a system of storage, and you stop the electricity on day, you can use it in the afternoon on at night without production, then when we have an on that item technical aspects financial aspect. I think solar will fall good days in the African, West African region, particularly in Benin.
21:23 Karan Takhar
Thank you so much, Mr. Assan, for your time and for this amazing insight. Thank you.
21:31 Todéman F. Assan
21:34 Karan Takhar
I hope you enjoyed that episode and do check out the show notes For more information on my guest. See you next time.