From power plant to living room
Angola invests heavily in taking electricity to its people in several parts of the country
Sebastião Lopes has had several “rebirths” in his lifetime. In the 1940s, he earned a living as a farm worker, digging the soil with his own hands in the province of Uige in northern Angola, still a little-urbanized area near the border with Congo. After 10 or 12 hours in the fields, he would take some firewood home. Firewood was synonymous with energy in those days. Time passed and in the following decades Lopes began using oil lamps. They only provided enough dim light to ward off the threatening noises in the night. The world around him also changed. In the mid-1970s, Angola became independent, but energy was still scarce. At the end of the last century, Lopes started using a more powerful energy source: a noisy and expensive generator that blackened his mud house with soot and spat smoke in the eyes of his wife, children and grandchildren.
For eight years now, the armed conflicts in Angola have been a thing of the past, and 2012 will be special, due to the direct presidential elections. Before going out to cast his vote, Lopes will be able to take a hot shower and put on his best suit. What has really revolutionized the life of this resident of the village of Negage was a click. A switch. Pure energy, electricity. Now he has a deep-freeze, so food stays fresh longer, and his family, starting with his wife, Luiza Lando, is enjoying a more comfortable way of life.
In order for electricity to reach the homes of Lopes and thousands of other people like him, Odebrecht has built the 220 kV (kilovolt) Energy Transportation System linking the Capanda hydroelectric plant to the province of Uige, covering a total of 270 km. The Capanda hydro was Odebrecht’s first project in that country, begun in the 1980s, but the company did not stop at building power plants. Getting energy to consumers is just as important as making turbines spin, so Odebrecht has installed a total of 800 km of transmission lines to date. Besides Capanda-Uige, which benefited the Lopes family, another recently completed project is the 300-km transmission line (400 kV) linking Capanda and the Luanda metropolitan region. In addition to these lines and substations, the company has electrified six cities between Capanda and Uige, benefiting over 5,000 families. But this is just a small sample of what needs to be done.
“The Government is planning specific programs to extend electrification to urban, peri-urban and rural areas of the country on a massive scale. We are also giving our full support for this initiative,” says Wagner Santana, the Project Director for Transmission Lines.
Energy is a priority in Angola. Only 30% of its people have access to electricity today. The nation’s estimated population totals 20 million people, and it currently produces 1,300 MW of power (50% thermal and 50% hydroelectric). The demand is for 4,000 MW (just for consumers, not counting industry). “Angola may even become an exporter of electricity in Southern Africa,” says Carlos Mathias, Director of Odebrecht Angola. “We also want to act as investors, through public-private partnerships.”
The Angolan Minister of Water and Power, Emanuela Vieira Lopes, said recently in the Angolan publication Estratégia: “We intend to grow the energy sector so that the population enjoys wellbeing and there is economic growth. By 2017, Angola should have the capacity to produce energy, meet its domestic demand and start exporting to other countries.” Odebrecht is playing a leading role in this effort. In addition to installing transmission lines and building the iconic Capanda plant, the company is helping build and refurbish two structures that are key to developing the capacity Minister Vieira Lopes mentioned: the Gove and Cambambe hydroelectric plants.
“El Dorado” or “the Golden One.” A legendary place of great wealth (gold and silver) relentlessly pursued by the Spanish colonizers of the Americas in the 16th century. Africa also had its El Dorado, pursued by the Portuguese in the 1500s right here in Angola, more precisely in the Cambambe Mountains. It was believed that the region contained vast mineral wealth, ever since King Manuel I of Portugal received a silver bracelet as a gift from the King of Congo. The Portuguese sovereign was also informed that that piece of jewelry had come from the Cambambe region, 200 km from where Luanda stands today.
Expeditions were sent out in search of silver, the first one headed by Manuel Pacheco and Baltazar de Castro in 1520. The silver was never found, but they explored the Kwanza River, the largest in the country, as far as a narrow gorge. A perfect place to build a dam. And the Portuguese themselves did just that in 1950. The 180-MW Cambambe hydroelectric plant became an important source of energy for the country, but its expansion (also by the Portuguese) was never completed. Due to irregular maintenance in times of war, the plant’s energy production was affected and its capacity fell to just 90 MW.
But all that changed when Odebrecht resumed work on the expansion project in 2005. When completed, the new Cambambe dam will generate up to 960 MW of power. The project is complex: it involves the restoration of Plant no. 1, which will have 260 MW of power, and the construction of Plant no. 2, with a capacity of 700 MW. It also includes increasing the height of the dam, which will rise by another 30 m, and building a lateral spillway to protect the dam in the rainy season. “We will produce renewable energy for about 8 million people with a hydroelectric project that has been central to the history of Angola and is essential for its future,” stresses Gustavo Belitardo, Project Director for Cambambe.
Cambambe will be one of the largest hydroelectric projects in Angola. Construction should be fully completed by 2015. However, one man has been there since its inception back in 1950. His name is Fernando Pedro Santos Neves, 60. He has seen Portuguese, French, Swiss people come and go. He has watched his co-workers battle diseases like malaria, cholera and yellow fever (his father worked as a nurse on the project). He has also witnessed conflicts in his country.
The work started, stopped, and got going again. Fernando Neves guarantees that at no time did he think that the initial project, which already included the two plants, would never be completed. He used to work as an electrician at the water treatment station, in the administrative sector. In the 1980s, he saw the construction of Capanda and foresaw a future for Cambambe. Now retired, but the owner of a firm that still provides services for the project, Fernando looks back on the full cycle. “The feeling I have after all these years is that I’m seeing my country grow.”
The country will grow, and so will the exploitation of the hydroelectric potential of the Kwanza River, which is 960 km long. In its waters, two major projects are awaiting tenders: the prodigious Laúca (2,067 MW) and Caculo-Cabaça (2,053 MW) dams.
While there is still much work to be done at Cambambe, another Angolan project is almost ready: the rehabilitation of the Gove dam and the construction of the 60 MW hydroelectric plant of the same name, in the Cuíma commune in Huambo province. Civil construction and electromechanical assembly are nearing completion. Expectations are that this project will be delivered by June 2012, and the first unit will begin generating power by the end of the March of that year. The energy Gove produces will supply the provinces of Huambo (120 km from Gove) and Bie (230 km away), serving approximately 3 million people.
The Gove project has a special history. Begun in the 1960s, it was the first dam on the Cunene and was responsible for the regulation of that river so that other hydroelectric plants and agricultural projects could be deployed downstream. In the 90s, the dam was sabotaged, almost ruining its structure. In 2008, Odebrecht started rehabilitating the partially destroyed dam and building the powerhouse and substation. Due to years of armed conflict, the region is underdeveloped, but the arrival and development of this project is changing all that.
“When we got here, we couldn’t hire most of the local workforce because the people were still frightened and didn’t have the skills to work on this kind of project – they are humble people, fishermen, small farmers, but willing to learn and develop,” says Project Director Marcus Azeredo.
When the right conditions were in place, the “I Learned at Gove” project was born, through which workers learn job skills. The Odebrecht teams have also developed programs to combat HIV/AIDS and ensure safe childbirths, and especially to encourage children to stay in school. In 2008 there were 80 workers from the commune working on the project, and today that number has grown to 500, which corresponds to 62% of the current workforce. Now, thanks to the number of people at work on the project, the village of Gove is preparing to become a small town, a municipality. More than just bringing electricity, the measures Odebrecht has taken in Gove, in conjunction with the client – the Office for the Administration of the Cunene River Hydroelectric Basin (Gabhic) of the Ministry of Energy and Water (Minea) – have shown how a project can energize and empower a community.
Lopes, whose story we told at the beginning of this report, has directly benefited from Odebrecht’s work. His neighbor in Negage, a civil servant named Daniel Neto, remembers the day (December 15, 2010) when electric lights first came on in the unpaved street where they live. “It was a great feeling. You know what’s even more amazing? Most people there had never seen that kind of light, so bright and powerful. Others had only seen it in Luanda,” he says. “The kids couldn’t stop crying and cheering.”
One of humankind’s most popular forms of entertainment, commonplace for many, is now part of the residents’ lives: watching TV. Fatima, 12, Daniel’s daughter, does not miss a single episode of the Brazilian soap India – A Love Story. Her father likes it too, although he thinks soap operas are for kids. Fatima enjoys watching TV, but is quick to conclude why having electricity is so important. “Now I can study at night, and have a future. A better future for me and Angola. Through light.”
Grooming and educating people
As always on Odebrecht projects, these construction works are not just about physical structures but also about human beings. They are providing more than 1,500 direct job opportunities, as well as skills taught through the Acreditar Ongoing Professional Qualification Program. Odebrecht projects employ about 17,000 members across the country, 93% of whom are Angolans.
During a recent visit to Angola, when he attended President Roussef’s speech before the National Assembly, Marcelo Odebrecht, President and CEO of Odebrecht S.A., observed: “When a Brazilian company comes here, it hires local workers and develops the supply chain. In our projects, we bring Brazilians over to deploy our entrepreneurial culture, but as this process moves ahead, we come to rely solely on the Angolans.”
An important part of the transmission line project, for example, was educating Angolan workers from the National Power Company (ENE) to operate the substations.