Swaziland Electric Company: Energising Lifestyles

One of the big issues that will help secure the long-term economic prosperity of the sub-Sahara region is a reliable energy supply. In Swaziland that challenges lies squarely with Swaziland Electricity Company (SEC).

SEC02Swaziland Electricity Company (SEC) is a limited liability company incorporated and domiciled in the Kingdom of Swaziland. The company was formed back in 1963, as a parastatal and recently started operating in a liberalized market following the introduction of several laws: The Electricity Company Act (2007), The Energy Regulatory Authority Act (2007) and as well as The Public Enterprises (Control and Monitoring) Act of 1989.

By 2008 Swaziland was importing roughly 80 per cent of its electricity from Eskom in South Africa and 10 per cent from Mozambique. Local generation contributed roughly 10 per cent of supply and was mainly for peak load.

Electrification was estimated at 28.5 per cent, but only 2 per cent of rural households were connected. A Rural Electrification programme has been funded by the Swaziland government and the Republic of China (Taiwan) to bring electricity to rural schools, heath care centres and clinics. The country aims to produce electricity more efficiently and trade it in competitive markets, with lower tariffs – and SEC is charged with finding solutions to these demands.

The Rural Electrification Unit embarked during 2010 on Phase Eight of its ongoing programme funded with assistance from the Republic of China- Taiwan. It incorporates homesteads and small business ventures, as well as government institutions such as schools, clinics and youth centres.

There are a number of benefits to this programme that many people may take for granted; for example, access to electric lights is encouraging adults to read in the evenings and means that those studying can do so for longer hours. Businesses are also able to extend their operational hours and centres of education are for the first time able to access electronic equipment. However perhaps the greatest advances come in the field of healthcare, where centres and clinics can utilise machinery to fight illness and reduce mortality rates.

SEC04Of course Swaziland’s use of electricity goes back much further in time and SEC’s history can be traced back to the 1920s, when the first electric light to light up the night in Swaziland was installed at Mlilwane with a 52.5 kVA hydro-turbine by James Weighton Reilly.

Reilly later installed this plant on the Mbabane River, below where the Swazi Inn was later built, to supply Mbabane with light. He subsequently sold it to Mercer Cox, who then sold it to the Swaziland Government. Mickey Reilly also brought electricity to Bremersdorp (present-day Manzini), where he created a roaring trade selling single light points to the town, and in particular to the families Howe and Stewart, whose rivalry caused them to compete with each other. This escalated not only the price of electricity, but also the number of light points sold!

By June 1955 the process had started which led to Swaziland’s Government purchasing the Bremersdorp Electricity Supply from the Swaziland Power Company for £50,000. Eight years later the Swaziland Electricity Board was officially launched and work commenced on the construction of Edwaleni Hydro-Electric Power Station which was officially launched in 1964.

Subsequently Swaziland has seen a number of power stations and sub stations built including at Hhelehhele and Luphohlo Power Station, while the Eskom III Incomer was constructed from Normandie to Kalanga a quarter of a century ago.

The year 2000 saw further improvements to supplies as the Motraco 400kV joint venture as well as the Edwaleni II 400/132kV 500MVA (2by 250MVA) Substation was commissioned. This project, combined with the commissioning of a number of other 132/66kV substations brought a marked improvement to the quality of supply. Hhelehhele and Stonehenge Substations were brown field projects whilst Mkhinkomo II was a green field development.

Five years ago the Swaziland Electricity Board changed its name and became the Swaziland Electricity Company. The new organisation opened its latest station in May of last year, when His Majesty King Mswati III officially opened the Maguga Hydro-Electric Power Station.

Since the unveiling of SEC in 2007, Swaziland has had to endure the harsh realities of economic pressure as the once regular revenue stream from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) dramatically reduced.

This in turn has led to a business decline for SEC, partly because companies have looked at other options like self-generation. To counter the effects of reduced business, SEC has embarked upon a restructuring exercise to ensure its sustainability.

Part of its ongoing efforts to improve efficiency and supply include the construction of four new depots to help improve turnaround times and customer demand. According to the company “We have been able to secure land for these projects at Madlangemphisi and Sithobela areas. We are still working on securing pieces of land at Lobamba/Zulwini and Mankayane. Nonetheless, work continues as the projects have clear time-lines. A typical depot has been designed and circulated to the stakeholders for comments. Tendering is being effected and contractors have already been shown the sites where the depots will be constructed.

“Alongside the depots, land has been secured for the building of substations at Nkhaba, and negotiations for land in Siphofaneni are still going on. The project has started in Nkhaba following the sod-cutting ceremony on the 28th October 2011 and the contractor has procured all long lead items and moved to the site in January 2012.”

In addition to building the new depots, SEC is committed to system reinforcement projects such as the one at Mayiwane. The construction of this 66/11kV substation has been completed and power was linked to the local grid on the 13th December, 2011. The substation is powered from an overhead line from Sihhoye, which was constructed on galvanized steel monopoles covering about 20kms.

SEC01According to the company: “The substation will strengthen power supply in the Mayiwane area and also provide stable electricity supply to benefit areas such as Mkhuzweni, Buhleni, Ndlalambi, Mayiwane, Msahweni, Ngonini Estate and others along the Pigg’s Peak – Matsamo Border Post stretch. Included in the design of the substation is a system to enable remote monitoring and control of the station from national control centre. It is also equipped with a 10MVA 66/11kV transformer unit, which will also work as a back-up for the Pigg’s Peak and Balegane substations during emergencies. Construction of the station started on the 3rd December, 2010.”

The SEC’s increasingly popular system of prepaid electricity for domestic consumers took a big step forward in June 2010 with the launch of voucher cards: over 40 per cent of clients have switched over. Around the same time the company completed construction of its E45-million substation in Manzini north and the E30-million substation and lines to power Sikhuphe International Airport.

Whilst business demand for electricity supplies may have fallen, the domestic market has increased significantly and that means SEC is dramatically changing lifestyles across Swaziland.