Improving Sierra Leone’s power system
Background, challenges, and context
Sierra Leone’s energy sector suffers from multiple problems related to inadequate capacity and finance. Most of the population (80%) does not have access to electricity. For those who have electricity access, the supply is often unreliable. 17% of the population are connected to the grid and another 2-3% are connected to solar, mini-grid, or portable home energy systems.
Electricity provision is inseparable from broader societal issues such as environmental concerns, risk management, and health policy. It is also an imperative for reducing poverty levels and for ensuring sustainable development. It is vital for achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The current state of Sierra Leone’s energy sector is in acute need of improvement. Ambitious targets have been set in the country’s energy sector reform roadmap for 2017 to 2030, aimed at improving access to electricity, achieving financial sustainability, and restoring public confidence in the sector.
For the energy sector to improve and for these targets to be met at the rate required, some transformative changes are needed. Robust and resilient solutions, acceptable to a range of different stakeholders, are required.
Decision-makers must meet a double energy challenge of increasing both the scale and the pace of electrification in order to kick-start social and economic development. The need to take the right decision pathway is accentuated by the long-life nature of electricity infrastructure – this is all the more important as global climate change imperatives make the compelling case for avoiding building carbon-intensive electricity systems that result in ‘high carbon lock-in’.
With decisions related to electricity provision having profound impacts on individual lives, the economy, national security, and the environment, understanding the decision-making of key stakeholders is a crucial part of changing the landscape of Sierra Leone’s energy sector.
Different decision-makers will have distinct attitudes towards a problem and the ‘best’ solution will differ from one decision-maker to another, depending on their particular acceptance of, or aversion to, risks and uncertainties. Energy sector stakeholders operate at different levels within a power structure and will have conflicts of interest. Furthermore, trust is increasingly becoming central to the decision-making process in the energy sector – much of the discourse is centred around the SDG 7 goal to provide affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030.
While better decision-making is not the only solution to address many of the challenges faced in Sierra Leone’s energy sector, it is an important one – but the understanding of decision-making in the country is limited.
Research overview and objectives
The aim of this project was to achieve a better understanding of the current decision-making processes and dynamics in Sierra Leone’s energy sector. It included examining who is important, and their motivations and roles at different stages of a project, and how decisions are made.
A stakeholder network analysis was carried out – it was the first time such a study had been conducted in the context of Sierra Leone’s energy sector.
An egocentric network mapping approach and a Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed (RACI) matrix (a method used to clarify roles and responsibilities) were combined to generate data on stakeholder roles.
Key actors in the sector, including ministries, utilities and regulatory bodies, development partners, and Independent Power Producers (IPPs) were surveyed. A rapid network assessment (RNA) was conducted to generate an initial list of individuals important for decision-making processes in Sierra Leone’s energy sector, followed by an online survey with 11 key participants (predominantly middle or senior managers most closely associated with electrification) from different types of organisations.
The purpose of the survey was to verify and expand on the stakeholder list originally generated as part of the RNA, and to understand how stakeholders engaged with each other in decision-making processes. Participants indicated their frequency of interaction with all stakeholders listed; identified key influences for on-grid and off-grid decisions and policy making; and identified the typical role of key stakeholders in decision-making using the RACI matrix.
Following the online survey, 16 face-to-face interviews with 30 interviewees were undertaken to add depth and help identify weaknesses and challenges. Again, stakeholders were predominantly middle to senior management and involvement was dependent on availability (all stakeholders identified were invited).
The interviews consisted of two parts: a stakeholder mapping exercise using the RACI matrix to fill data gaps (including stakeholder involvement at different stages of project development) and a verbal semi-structured interview, informed by the mapping data and broadly centred around four guiding questions:
How are decisions in the energy sector made?
Who were the key decision-makers and what roles do they play at different project phases (inception, planning, implementation, and operation)?
What are the main influences on their decisions?
How could decision-making be improved?
Research results, key messages, and recommendations
The different actors with the greatest relevance in different aspects of the energy sector are fairly clear. They include, irrespective of the project stage:
- Ministry of Energy (MoE)
- Utilities – Electricity Generation and Transmission Company (EGTC) for generation and transmission, and Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA) for distribution
Other actors that are particularly important to decision-making at the different stages are:
- The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), at the project inception phase. This is unsurprising, as decision-making at this point depends partly on the origin of the project. UNOPS has recently launched a large-scale energy access programme in Sierra Leone.
- The Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission (EWRC) and the Public Private Partnership Unit (PPPU), at the planning stage of a project. At this stage, the PPPU is responsible for guiding the MoE on agreements with stakeholders. The EWRC grants licences and oversees that the appropriate documentation is in place.
- The implementation stage tends to match the initiation stage: whichever actor launched the project will have a greater relevance.
- Albeit important throughout, the utilities (EGTC and EDSA) play a particularly important role at the operation stage – as they are responsible for the technical work and operations in Sierra Leone’s electricity system.
While formal processes exist for most state-owned institutions and departments, decision-making in Sierra Leone depends significantly on individuals and their interests.
At the moment, priorities do not align with one another – something that is not uncommon to decision-making in general: different actors have different objectives. This in turn affects sector outcomes and is counterproductive to progress in the energy sector.
The study was unable to provide insights at a more detailed level on decision-making motives for prioritising certain projects or approaches. Nonetheless, it was evident that decision-making in Sierra Leone is influenced by the desire for 1) energy access at all levels of decision-making; 2) quick and visible results from politicians; and 3) reduction of risk and liability for governmental entities such as the Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Finance.
Problems identified include misaligned goals, unclear or inconsistent communication channels, and ambiguous responsibilities.
The most important observations to emerge from the stakeholder interviews were a need for clearly defined stakeholder roles, improved communication channels, and streamlined decision-making processes.
A new comprehensive plan, which clearly addresses these issues, together with capacity building, would be an important step in improving decision-making in Sierra Leone.