27 of July 2021

Sao Tome and Principe: Small island state in energy transition

The Government of São Tomé and Príncipe expects to launch two national action plans in September 2021 with support from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). The two plans are the National Action Plan for Renewable Energy and the National Action Plan for Energy Efficiency, which will support the development of renewable energy in the country as well as efficient consumption. The Government of São Tome and Principe is working to achieve a 50% renewable energy rate in its energy mix by 2030, explains the UNIDO National Project Coordinator at the Directorate General of Natural Resources and Energy (DGRNE), Gabriel Maquengo.


São Tome and Principe has been working in collaboration with UNIDO, the World Bank, UNDP and other organisations to implement renewable energy projects in the country. The most advanced renewable energy project currently is the Santo Amaro solar photovoltaic power plant with 2.2 MWp, which is expected to be operational in early 2022. It is located next to the Santo Amaro thermal power plant (more info here).


There is also the rehabilitation project of the Papagaio hydro plant of up to 1MW on the island of Príncipe, which is still in its study phase and scheduled to start operating in 2024. The rehabilitation plans are under the responsibility of UNIDO, UNDP and ETISP (Energy Transition and Institutional Support Programme) of the African Development Bank, which also includes two solar PV projects, technical strengthening and maintenance of the thermal plants. Also on the island of Príncipe, there are plans to develop a 4.5 MWp solar photovoltaic plant.


Currently, the rate of renewable energy production in the energy mix in Sao Tome and Principe is 5% from the Contador hydroelectric plant with 1.9 MW.


The country is also working to develop four hydroelectric projects of 14 MW in total under a build-own-operate regime in Yô Grande and Bombaim. 


One of the challenges being addressed in UNIDO's programme is the lack of experienced local professionals. During project development, UNIDO and other partners have been contracting international companies that also work with the national technicians for knowledge transfer. This comes with the purpose that in a very near future will be possible to develop projects locally without relying on international companies.


However, the development of renewable energy is a priority for the government, the issue of universal rural electrification cannot be ignored.  In the face of energy policies, other technologies must remain to ensure electricity supply to all. Gas and diesel projects still need to be developed, although international organisations are not willing to fund them, the basic structure is needed for an energy transition. The energy transition does not mean leaving the population in the dark while renewable measures are being implemented. Although it is not intended to increase the thermal energy index, mainly diesel, it will be necessary to meet the national supply during the transition period. Thermal energy projects will be reduced as the insertion of renewable energy into the national energy mix increases, according to the National Project Coordinator.


Still in this transitional phase, a 12.5 MW biomass project is expected to be developed by CISAN in Agua Casada in the Lobata region, having already been signed a power purchase agreement.  Four projects of 15 to 10 MW are being planned by companies like Solo Solar Energy and CISAN, although the current pandemic situation caused by COVID-19 is not allowing the desired development for these projects.

Apart from solar PV and hydropower projects, the government also hopes to make use of new and emerging technologies. A major opportunity lies in ocean technologies that have yet to be made affordable. 

A study is underway by the Support Program for Small Island Developing (SIDS Dock) to understand the potential of marine energy in the SIDS. At the moment, the technology is still very expensive, but the effect of these new energy production tools could be great. Sao Tome and Principe has shown great willingness to adopt new initiatives to develop a sustainable energy sector.

Despite the problems in power generation, the lack of definition of some policies and regulatory issues, the negative impact of dependence on fossil fuels and the lack of local knowledge and experience, São Tomé and Príncipe is on the right path and has taken steps that prove its commitment to the energy transition.


Source and Image @ UNIDO