Information about Power and Electricity for the Traveler to Ghana, Togo, and Benin

Power lines in norther ghana

One of the questions that I received from travelers going to Ghana, Togo and Benin with us is, what is the availability of electricity and the plugs that are used in these countries?  For me to answer their question since I knew where they were going was relatively simple, I knew where they were going and staying each night.   But to answer the question for you is a little more difficult as I do not know your itinerary.

Electricity in Ghana, Togo and Benin will be available at most hotels, guest house and lodges on the major tourist routes through these countries.  In villages and rural areas it is a hit or miss sort of thing, it really depends on how far off the beaten path you are going.  Even in the areas that typically have electricity there are often blackouts, and prolonged periods without electricity because of the lack of maintenance, and the energy crisis many of these countries are experiencing.

To fully understand the issues facing electricity and power in Ghana, Togo and Benin, a brief look at the short history of electricity in these countries would be helpful.  Below broken up by country is a short guide to electricity matters in Ghana, Togo, and Benin.

Ghana:

Standards

Ghana: 230 volts AC, 50 Hz.

Plugs

*The two prong plug is the same as the one used in Togo and Benin. It often requires something non-conductive to be put in the third hole which opens the other two holes for the plug it to be slid in.

Stats

Electricity coverage for population  45-47% of Ghanaians have access to Electricity with 15-17% being in rural areas.

The coastal area enjoys the most connectivity to electricity, then the forest ecological area, and then lastly the savanna area (in the north) is the least connected.

Electricity accounts for 11% (split almost 50/50, residential/commercial usage) of the countries total energy expenditures.

In 2004 Ghana had electricity to about 44% of the population compared to the average of 18% for the rest of West Africa.

Info from http://www.esi-africa.com/node/7765 published in 2007.

 History of Electricity in Ghana

The first major occurrence of there being electricity in Ghana was in 1914 and was supplied to a Railroad office in Sekondi.  In another 14 years the service had spread to Takoradi, while the rest of the country was turning on lights in limited areas of Accra, Koforidua and Kumasi.

The basis of this early power generation was motor power generators remotely operated around the country in some cases by the government, also mining and other industry companies.  This was the norm until in 1966 Akosombo dam was completed on the Volta River, creating the Volta Reservoir the largest in the world until recently.  This gave Ghana more than enough power along with the Kpong dam dam which followed shortly.  This made Ghana an exporter of electricity, supplying most of the primary needs for power in Ghana, along with Togo and Benin.

In the early 80s there were some droughts that tested the limitations of Ghana’s power supply with its reliance on water stored behind hydro-electric dams.  This started a whole string of studies that resulted in an old diesel power plant in Tema being restored and completed in 1993, and the creation of a Thermal Power Plant being started and fist phase was completed in Takoradi in 1999.

Ghana and it’s neighbors power needs and consumption continued to rise at a steady 6% a year.  The majority of this information is from pre 2006, but in 2007 the water levels in Volta lake reached an all time low, causing the first major energy crisis in Ghana.  The whole country underwent months of continued rolling blackouts which they called “load shedding exercises” because of the need to conserve energy.  The government turned to fuel again for power consumption, I believe that the Takoradi plant was expanded and a power generation barge was bought to supplement the energy needs of the quickly growing country.  The Ghanaian government was going broke trying to keep the generators supplied with fuel until the droughts let up in 2009 slightly.

The government came up with a few solutions one had been in planning and even construction since 2005, this was the West African Gas Pipeline, the other was an old plan from the 1960s that was brought to life again.  This plan consisted of damming the Black Volta River in the Northern Region of Ghana near Bui, and to be called the Bui Dam project.  The same developers of the 3 Gorges Dam in China stepped to the plat to build this one with Chinese financial backing.  This project has been said to be an “environmental disaster” by an in-bedded reporter with the team that did the environmental study.  The leader of the team always kept a neutral stance but was still banned from doing any more research on the environmental implication in 2001.  No one seemed to worry that the resulting lake would swallow one of Ghana’s best national parks, and ruin the habitat for one of the last large groups of hippos in the country.  It was glazed over that this would also follow the same ills as the other hydro-electric projects in the country and be at the same threat to global climate change and annual droughts.  The construction began anyway in 2008 and water began rising in 2011.

The West African Gas Pipeline was the other answer, a brain child of Ecowas (West African governing body) to make a natural Gas Pipeline from Nigeria to Ghana. Work began in 2005 and finished sometime in 2010 with numerous delays.  This pipeline fed the Thermal plants in Takoradi until August 2012 when a shootout between the Togo Navy and Nigerian pirates damaged a section of it by the pirates ship anchor dragging over it.  As of December 26th, 2012 the repairs have not been completed yet.

Even though the demand and supply of power has been growing in Ghana, there are some things that limit its expansion.  First from my talking to communities it sounds like they have to pay for the transformer after the power lines have been run that will supply their community.  Then the power companies will also not deliver power to houses with a thatched roof.  This create a development dilemma because that is traditionally how people kept their houses cool in the north using natural convection through the roof and clay walls.  So to get connected to electricity they need to re-roof their houses and then they will also probably need A/C units which in turn further tax the power supply.  It does not make financial sense to the primary farming people that live in the communities and it does not make sense for the sustainability of power generation in the country.

Remember while traveling about these power concerns and at what cost the electricity was brought to you.  Turn off AC, lights, fans and other appliances when not in the room, and be conservative with the energy that you do use.

Togo and Benin

Standards and Plugs

• Togo: 220 volts AC, 50 Hz

 

• Benin: 220 volts AC, 50 Hz

 

History

Togo’s electricity program has historically piggy backed off of Ghana’s development , and they still rely primarily on imports of electricity from Ghana.  As of 2007, about 85% of Togo’s electricity was imported from Ghana.  Three fifths of the domestic energy production in Togo is from hydroelectric the remaining comes from petroleum based generators.  Recently with the addition of power plants from ContourGlobal, they have began supplementing their domestic production of power.

As with Ghana the addition of the West African Gas Pipe Line WAGP that runs from Nigerian through both Togo and Benin also add to the energy security of both of these countries.  There are plans in the works to take more advantage of the pipeline on their doorstep but this is highly dependent on if the pipeline can show any sort of reliability in it delivery of natural gas.

The West African Power Pool WAPP is another initiative grown through ECOWAS that will help to secure reliable electricity through the whole region of West Africa.  This involves connecting the power systems of all these regional countries, this will add some redundancy to the system, and hopefully better reliability and ability to handle the load on the system.  In October of 2012 Liberia was the latest country to connect to the WAPP that already connected the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.  In addition Liberia will also supply power to Sierra Leone creating another connection.

Tips for the Traveler

  • Don’t over do it on the electronics that you bring on your trip.  Enjoy your trip rather than being 100% plugged into things back home.  Plus you will not have to worry as much about them getting damaged, or perhaps stolen
  • If you are leaving the capital city leave things like blow dryers and other high draw electronics at home, first if you are the type that will enjoy traveling outside the cities you are the type that can leave the blow dryer at home for a while.  Second this is more draw than some of the places you will be staying can take, especially boutique lodges, and eco-lodges where often they rely on alternative power generation, or diesel generators.
  • Be respectful of the power limitations of the places you are staying in and also the countries themselves   Un-plug electronics when they are not in use, and turn off things like TVs, radios, A/C and fans when you are not in the room using them.
  • Un-plugging electronics when they are not in use is also important for the life of your electronics, often there are power spikes especially as the power is coming back on on that will kill your electronics when they are not in use.
  • If you see staff at a hotel be careless about leaving things on, you may remind them or the owner of the hotel that electricity is not free and its use does in-fact pollute.
  • Do not leave electronics laying about in your room, for the most part they will be safe but you have to remember the average electronic that you may bring with you may be worth a years salary in theses countries or even multiple years, and the temptation may be too much for even generally moral people to make it their own.
  • Do not flaunt your electronics in public, this may increase your changes of loosing it to theft.
  • Be careful what information you bring on your laptop or other data storage devises.  Pornography is illegal in these countries, and some other sensitive material may get you in trouble from your work or if you work for another government.
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