Africa Business Communities

[Interview] Dr. Urenna Onyewuchi, General Chair, 2016 IEEE PES Power Africa Conference

Urenna Onyewuchi is Chair of the IEEE PES Power Africa Steering Committee and the Chair of 2016 IEEE PES Power Africa Conference. She leads a team of experienced PES members in steering IEEE PES activities in Africa, including the conference coming up in Ghana this year in June.

Would you please introduce IEEE PES?

The Power & Energy Society (PES) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) provides the world's largest forum for sharing the latest in technological developments in the electric power industry, for developing standards that guide the development and construction of equipment and systems, and for educating members of the industry and the general public. Members of the PES are leaders in this field. They - and their employers - derive substantial benefits from involvement with this unique and outstanding association. Read more on

The history of the IEEE PES goes back to one of the merged societies that formed the IEEE: the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE, founded 1884). The society is over 130 years old and has its executive office in Piscataway, New Jersey, USA. American inventors like Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison are associated with the IEEE PES.

What are its objectives as related to Africa?

Our objectives are exciting. We intend to leave a footprint in Africa. We will build the world’s largest forum that shares technical developments in the African power industry; further expand our strong network of power engineers into Africa for collaborative and innovative opportunities; create educational platforms to improve power education in Africa; recommend relevant technical standards in the power industry that should be applied and enforced in Africa; and connect African power students, university instructors and professors with their counterparts around the globe; among others. Current and future IEEE PES members residing in Africa will be leaders in their fields to the benefit of themselves and their employers.

Our uniqueness is not only in our technical strength and longevity, but also that the majority of our initiatives in Africa are led by African-American and African members in the diaspora and Africa, and by foreigners with keen, beneficial interests in Africa.

What is the power conference in Accra aiming  to achieve upon completion?

This year’s conference will emphasize the emerging opportunities to leverage ICT in building solutions for both on-grid and off-grid systems across the continent that are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. We also address the role of current and future regulations, investment frameworks and policies. As my colleague Mr. Bai Blyden of consulting group BBRM also adds that ICT is now a critical component of the new power grid architecture worldwide, and that African countries must align with this. African countries must also leverage this reality in planning and design by being familiar with all the new emerging standards.
The principle of data and "big data" is being applied to several sectors around the world: from data collection to analysis for making useful decisions. Integrating data collection and analysis with power distribution, energy usage, etc. will help with efficient system operation.

Is there a criteria for choosing countries?

Usually, we look at regions in Africa with active IEEE or IEEE PES chapters (IEEE PES plans on nurturing local PES activities in local IEEE chapters throughout Africa).

In general, we are open to organizations that want to partner and collaborate with us to advance humanity through power technology. We adhere to the IEEE and IEEE PES policy. So, organizations and chapters in the respective countries that are interested in hosting with us must agree to adhere to those policies and have genuine interest in such advancement. Bai Blyden of consulting firm BBRM, a member of the IEEE PES Power Africa Steering Committee, also adds that we will consider North Africa and Central Africa in future planning since we want to appropriately connect with the different power pool regions in Africa. We have planned and hosted conferences in South Africa and East Africa (Zambia), and will host in West Africa (Ghana) this June.

Who can participate in this event, and how?

All individuals working to change power in Africa is invited to participate. We have technical/ entrepreneurial tutorials, paper presentations, panel discussions, technical tours, and opportunities for sponsorships. One of the most important attributes that this conference boasts is its strong networking opportunities. We invite researchers, students, innovators, development banks, regulators, utilities, news agencies, governmental and non -governmental agencies around the world.

All interested parties should visit our website regularly, and register or serve as sponsors as soon as the registration platform opens up.

What, in your opinion, can be done governments and investors to develop the power sector in Africa?

Governments and investors must learn to involve a larger number of African experts. African governments are eager to contract foreign agencies for development-work. However, just like the commercial sector in the US, through government regulations, has worked to encourage the inclusion of minorities in certain large contracts and bids, African governments should create programs and policies that ensure a sufficient proportion of Africans or African-Americans are hired into developing the continent’s power sector. This helps ensure sustainability. Most regions in Africa have historically been poor at maintaining infrastructure. If they are better included in development, we increase the likelihood of maintenance.

Prof. Bruce Krogh of Carnegie Mellon University, who serves the Rwanda campus director and a conference Technical Program Committee Co-Chair, believes that governments should continue to develop regulatory environments that encourage innovation and investment, especially with regard to microgrid development, integration of renewable generation and demand management.

How would you assess Ghana’s economic performance in 2016?

This response is provided by the local conference chair, Dr. Eric Kuada, lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA). He believes Ghana is doing fairly well according to reports. In Africa, Ghana is constantly represented in the top three countries that promote freedom of speech. They have a matured democracy characterized by successive peaceful elections.

Reports show Ghana’s economy grew by 4.9% in Q1, 2016, only a 0.8% improvement from Q1, 2015. The nation’s first Eurobond, formerly five times oversubscribed was issued on September 9, 2016. By August 2016, the Ghana cedi had depreciated against the US dollar by 3.3%.

Delays in resolving the power challenges of Ghana, the fall in oil prices, and a depreciating currency are perceived to be the cause of the economy’s lethargic growth. Despite these challenges, Ghana remains a beacon of hope. Thanks to their democracy and determination to resolve challenges.

Which African countries performed best in 2016?

Looking at this from a power point of view, I would highlight Ethiopia’s determination and diligence in building the $6.4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam inspite of challenges. Prof. Bruce Krogh of Carnegie Mellion highlights Kenya because of the impressive growth of renewable generation there.  The 310MW Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (LTWP) is the single largest private investment in Kenya's history. And according to Renewable Energy World (  ), Kenya’s solar energy deployment is one of the most ambitious rural electrification projects in Africa, and Kenya is on course to becoming Africa’s biggest producer of geothermal energy. Nigeria is still the continent’s largest economy.

In all, we would say Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria performed rather well in 2016.


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