The power of the land

The power of the land

Jean Donat, General Manager, Central Electricity Board (CEB), has helped steer innumerable improvements to power connectivity throughout the country, ensuring it’s on safe ground as it continues to grow.


Could you give us a picture of CEB? What is its historical role in powering Mauritius’ economy? How has it grown and evolved to meet the islands’ growing energy needs? What have been some major milestones reached as well as recent accomplishments?

The Central Electricity Board (CEB) is a parastatal body wholly owned by the government of Mauritius and reporting to the Ministry of Energy and Public Utilities. Established in 1952 and empowered by the Central Electricity Board Act 1963, the CEB’s business is to “prepare and carry out development schemes with the general object of promoting, coordinating and improving the generation, transmission, distribution and sale of electricity” in Mauritius.

Over the years, substantial investments in building generating capacity and in consolidating and modernizing the transmission and distribution infrastructure have guaranteed a reliable, high-quality and continuous supply of power to the population and all sectors of the economy. Today, the role of the CEB must be seen in the context of the ambitions of a rapidly growing nation. The utility has a much wider role to play in addition to the supply of electricity. It must support the country’s growth and development aspirations, while taking on board its sustainability concerns. It must equally ensure that the country remains an attractive investment destination.


Can you tell us about the government’s net-zero ambitions, targeting a 40% reduction in carbon emissions and 60% in renewable energy (of total mix) by 2030.? What is the CEB’s pivotal role in the island’s energy transition and its low-carbon future?

It is important to note that Mauritius has an insular grid that is highly sensitive to network disturbances, such as loss of generating plants or sudden increases in load demand. The integration of variable renewable energy generation in such a network is a real challenge but not impossible. It is thus the role of the CEB to do a number of things. First, to ensure that our national grid can accommodate and support the integration of variable renewable energy generation. This includes increasing our grid absorption capacity through the deployment of smart grid technologies to better manage the operation of the grid and further increase the number of interconnection points through the implementation of indoor Gas Insulated Switchgear Substations to replace old existing ones.

Further roles include the following: the development and implementation of innovative models for small scale power producers to increase their participation in the renewable energy journey; the maintenance of a high level of grid availability for evacuation of power from RE generation power stations; and the sustainability, the reliability and security of electricity supply.

There is a a need to work in close collaboration with decision makers for the promotion of innovative RE technologies and associated systems. It is the government role to make policies. The CEB is the implementing arm of the government as all projects are initiated at its level. Relevant studies are also conducted to decide on way forward on certain projects. The CEB collaborates fully with the Energy Efficiency Management Office (EEMO) toward implementing energy efficiency and demand side management measures. Several projects are in the pipeline in connection with decarbonization of the energy sector.


What are some highlights of the current investment pipeline in expanding and upgrading power-generating plants, transmission and distribution networks, energy storage infrastructure as well as electronic systems and technology?

First there is power generation: recent signatures of 2 ESPAs for the setting up of 2×10 MW Solar PV project; RFPs have been launched for the setting of 140 MW RE hybrid facilities (100 MW large scale + 40 MW small scale); to accommodate the REHFs, 10 GIS substations are also contemplated in the coming years; a 20 MW peak shaving BESS is expected to be commissioned by early next year (the bids are presently under evaluation); the setting of a 2 MW floating PV at Tamarind Falls Reservoir; an there are many more projects besides.

In terms of transmission and distribution, this is a vital part of environmentally sound practice as we progress through the 21st century. In that spirit we have initiated a number of measures to address this problem, such a implementing our established smart grid road map, deploying smart meters and advanced metering infrastructures, deploying advanced management systems, constructing 10 indoor gas insulated switchgear substations (which will replace old ones), we have constructed a new 132 kV double circuited tower line linking two major substations (Henrietta and Combo), we have replaced old switching substations to meet load growth and accommodate RE generation facilities, and we have undergrounded our distribution network so that it will be more resilient to climatic change.


Could you give our readers a closer look at Mauritius’ grid-scale battery systems, built in partnership with the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in 2018. What do the systems look like today and what opportunities are open for more investment?

In 2018, with the financial support of the Green Climate Fund, the CEB commissioned two Battery Energy Storage Systems of 2MW/1 MWh each, installed in two of our major substations, namely Amaury and Henrietta Substations.  They are of outdoor containerized type and comprise Lithium Ion batteries for frequency regulation.

In 2021, our BESS Park in Mauritius was further increased with the commissioning of four additional BESS for a cumulated capacity of 14 MW / 7 MWh. The four new BESS were co-financed by the GCF. It is important to note that the installation of 18 MW BESS was a recommendation of an in-depth study performed in 2014 to determine the grid absorption capacity of Mauritius. The BESS will allow the CEB to integrate up to 185 MW variable renewable energy generation. To note that by the end of 2021, the CEB had already reached 117 MW of intermittent RE.

I should note that the CEB will invest in the installation of an additional 20 MW / 10 MWh BESS at Amaury Substation. The purpose of this new BESS is to perform both Peak Shaving and support the integration of variable RE through frequency regulation. The procurement process is currently at evaluation stage, and we expect the new system to be operational by end of 2023. The new BESS will further increase our grid absorption capacity for variable renewable energy generation. In the future, the CEB will work continuously to invest in network-reinforcement systems in order to support renewable energy generation. This includes investment in BESS and other smart grid technologies that will allow the utility to meet Government’s net-zero objectives.


Could you give us some insights into the key tenders being offered for the development of renewable energy projects?

There are several. In the RFP for Solar + BESS Hybrid System the developer will have to combine Solar PV and Battery energy storage to provide a firm and stable power to the grid. They have to comply with the relevant power output profiles ranging between 10% and 100% of the total guaranteed output. These projects shall be connected to the 66 kV AIS/GIS substation. The unit size of each REHF shall be in the range of 10-30 MW and CEB intend to accommodate some 100MW +/-10% from this procurement exercise. The CEB will execute PPA with the shortlisted firms to purchase renewable energy over a 20-year contract term.

In the RFP for Small Scale REHF  the developer will have to combine Solar PV, battery energy storage and another renewable energy technology (wind, hydro, wave, biogas etc.) to provide a firm and stable power to the grid. They have to comply with the relevant power output profiles ranging between 10% and 100% of the total guaranteed output. These projects shall be connected to the 22 kV network. The unit size of each REHF shall be in the range of 1-10 MW and CEB intend to accommodate some 40MW +/-10% from this procurement exercise. The CEB will execute PPA with the shortlisted firms to purchase renewable energy over a 20-year contract term.

We have also initiated a consultancy study for setting up of a 2 MW Floating PV Farm at Tamarind Falls Reservoir. A consultant has already been appointed and works are currently in progress. The consultant will have to prepare an EIA report and also assist the CEB in the tendering phase of the project. As part of second assignment, they will also provide site supervisory services during the implementation phase. Should the project operate satisfactorily, and taking into consideration land scarcity in Mauritius, the CEB will investigate the possibility of expanding FPV capacity in different reservoirs.

On top of this, there is the procurement of 2,000 Solar PV Kits for low income households. The Home Solar Project as it is called reconciles two major objectives, namely increasing the use of renewable energy and helping in the alleviation of poverty.  The pilot phase of the Home Solar Project, consisting of the installation of 1,000 PV kits on the rooftops of low-income households across the island, was completed in February 2019. Upon the successful implementation of the full project over a period of 5 years, some 10,000 low-income households, without having to make any disbursement, will obtain a 1.5 kWp solar PV kit and will benefit from 75 kWh of free electricity per month over a period of 20 years.

The CEB has benefited from the support of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development for this project. It has recently launched a tendering exercise for the procurement of 2,000 solar PV kits. The offers are currently under evaluation.

Finally, there is the procurement of 3,000 Solar PV Kits for middle income religious bodies, NGOs and SMEs. The objective is to deploy solar photovoltaic (PV) installations (kits) to benefit qualified religious bodies, NGOs and SMEs. Each qualified religious body will benefit from the installation of a solar PV kit of 2.0 kW. The PV kit will be installed by the CEB free of charge. The operational and maintenance costs will also be borne by the CEB. Under this scheme, for a period of 20 years, a qualified customer will receive for free every month 50% of the energy produced and exported by the solar PV kit. The tender for the procurement of 3,000 kits of 2.0 kW for religious bodies, NGOs and is currently under evaluation.


What flagship wind and solar projects were recently launched or are in development. Are they exploring offshore wind energy, or do they also have the potential to tap other areas such as tidal energy or wave power?

The CEB launched a RFP for the setting up of wind farm(s) of 30-40 MW in July 2021 and the closing date was in November 2021. Two bids were received on the bid due date. However, none of them were found to be responsive to the RFP requirements. During the same period, the CEB also launched a RFP for the setting up of 3×10 MW solar PV farms. At the closing date, nine bids were received but only two were found to be responsive. Subsequently, the CEB executed ESPAs with the two shortlisted bidders. The latter have 15 months to complete the construction of the PV farms. Hence, it is expected that the 2×10 MW Solar Farms will become operational by end of 2023.

Recently we have launched two calls for proposals for the setting up of Renewable Energy Hybrid Facility. The first call for proposals is for the setting up of REHF comprising Solar PV and Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) that could guarantee a firm and stable power output to the CEB’s grid. The net output capacity for each REHF shall be in the range of 10 MW ac to 30 MW. This call for proposal is for a cumulative capacity of 100 MW ± 10%. The second invites proposals from project developers regarding the setting up of REHF comprising Solar PV, Wind, Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) and a third renewable energy generation. The system under this second call for proposal will guarantee a firm and stable power output to the CEB’s grid. The net output capacity for each REHF shall be in the range of 1 MW ac to 10 MW. This call for proposal is for a cumulative capacity of 40 MW ± 10%.

As rightly pointed out, Mauritius shall have to look beyond its limited land resource to harness renewable energy. We are surrounded by millions of square miles of oceans, and we have to tap on these resources. Marine renewable energy technologies have already proved their worth in other countries, including amongst others offshore wind, tidal, wave, ocean currents and OTEC. In this connection, MARENA, a unit falling under the aegis of the Ministry of Energy and Public Utilities, launched and Expression of Interest for consultancy services in July 2021.


What strategies and successes has the CEB’s renewable energy schemes seen which target businesses, SMEs, households, schools and more?

The deployment of small-scale distributed generation (SSDG) driven by solar photovoltaic technology started in 2012 with the support of UNDP and GEF (Global Environment Facility). In the CEB’s strategy to develop distributed renewable energy generation, we built on our learning curve by experiencing different schemes, which have evolved from attractive feed-in tariff (five times higher than average selling price) to gross-metering method.  In between, we evaluated the pros and cons of net-metering method. For the moment, until the implementation of full cost-reflective electricity tariff structure in the local power sector, the gross-metering is the most economically sound approach as it enables remunerating the grid, and by extension, the utility reliable services.

The implemented renewable energy schemes, targeting different segments of electricity users, has led to the setting up of 5,000 small-scale independent power producers (SIPPs), who are operating a cumulated installed capacity of 13.04 MW solar PV systems; and 35 Prosumer-type medium-scale independent power producers (MIPPs), who are managing the operation of 7.25 MW distributed RE generation.  Combined, this is equivalent to a solar PV from of around 20 MW (a utility-scale power generation in a small power system like ours).

The CEB recognizes that the pathway to 2025 is not free of hurdles, especially financial difficulties, given mounting economic challenges being faced by SIDs. These can be overcome with support from international agencies such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNDP, etc. In addition to the above-mentioned schemes, the CEB is also working on the implementation of the CEB Greenfield RE Scheme (IPP model) which would unlock investment opportunities for public sector entities. A capacity of 60 MW has initially been allocated for this Scheme.


What is the CEB’s role in promoting use of electric vehicles by developing the network of charging stations? What are some expansion plans and investment opportunities?

In line with government policy for zero emission electric mobility, the CEB has recently launched three schemes to promote the uptake of electric vehicles. In November 2021, the CEB Solar PV Scheme for Charging of Electric Vehicles was launched.  Under this scheme, owners of electric chargers for electric vehicles connected on the low-voltage network can install a solar PV of up to 10 kW to generate the energy requirements of their electric cars.  Customers are allowed to charge their EVs during the night (off peak period) at a low electricity tariff (time of use tariff) and from feed-in the solar energy generation during the daytime periods.

In March 2022, a similar Scheme for Corporate Entities’ Charging of EVs was launched. Under this scheme, in addition to the setting up of an on-site or off-site solar PV installations, corporate entities are provided additional incentives such as time of use tariff, 50/50 cost sharing for network extension, free metering equipment, together with other fiscal incentives given by government.

And finally, this past spring, the CEB launched the CEB Scheme for Service Providers offering public charging of EVs Service. This scheme will enable the deployment of network of charging facilities around the island of Mauritius.

All these initiatives aim to operationalize the 10-Year Electric Vehicles Integration Roadmap commissioned by the government of Mauritius in 2020.  As per the roadmap, under the medium growth scenario, it is expected that the fleet of EVs will reach a total of 8400 in 2025. At present, there are around 600 EVs on the Island. The growth rate is likely to take an exponential growth, although the numbers are quite small today.


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