Severe erratic power supply has been the bane of The Gambia and blighted its development since independence. Successive governments have employed a pot-pourri of measures to ameliorate the situation without much success. However, in May 2018, the Turkish company Karpowership began feeding about 30MW of power into the national grid in the framework of a power purchase agreement with the national utilities company, Nawec. Although power outages have not been stopped, they are no longer the normal.

The Standard newspaper managing editor, Sheriff Bojang, this week talked to the company’s ebullient and dynamic project manager, Mr Yankuba Mamburay, about Karpowership’s collaboration with Nawec to stabilise The Gambia’s perennial power problem.

The Standard:  Tell us a little about yourself.

I am from the village of Faraba Banta. That’s where I went to school. From there I went to St Augustine’s High School. I did my GCE Ordinary Level Examination in 1989 and Advanced Level in 1991. I got my first degree in Malaysia and an MBA in the USA. I worked in Asia, Africa and the US.

Your designation at Karpowership is project manager, what does that entail?

It entails overseeing the entire project and ensuring the success of the project – while partnering with the community in which we operate to enhance education, health and create employment.

What is Karpowership? I know you started operations about mid May 2018 and you are into power generation, but what exactly is Karpowership and what specifically are you doing in The Gambia?

Karpowership is a member of Karadeniz Energy Group, Istanbul, Turkey. Karpowership is the only owner, builder and operator of the first Powership (floating power plant) fleet in the world. Since 2010, 19 Powerships have been completed with total installed capacity of exceeding 3,000 MW. Additional 5,000 MW are under construction or in the pipeline.

Powership is a unique offering, delivering the most reliable mid-to-long term power supply solution at an optimum cost.

And this is exactly what our project in the Gambia is about, providing low-cost electricity to the good people of the Gambia.

What is the nature of your relationship with the national power company, Nawec?

In February this year, 2018, we signed what we call a Power Purchase Agreement which binds us and ensures that we provide electricity supply through the system that is already made available by Nawec. Nawec as you know is the sole producer of electricity in this country. So Nawec is crucial for our operation and great to partner with. We collaborate with them to ensure that we generate and supply power to the country.

Your floating powership, Karadeniz Powership Koray Bey, is anchored in Banjul waters. How do you feed into Nawec’s terrestrial grid? 

We have the power generator. The ship itself is a power plant. It generates power and then it has transmission lines from the ship. If you go by the beach side you see a very tall tower. The  transmission line connects to the ship through the tower and from the tower it connects to Nawec’s national grid. That’s how the power is generated and transmitted.

This powership has a capacity of about 36 megawatts, but exactly how much are you pumping into Nawec’s grid?

Basically, it is an average of 30MW. There are occasions when we go well above 30MW… up to 33MW. We can go all the way to 36MW when the need arises. There is a fluidity of demand… That’s how far up we can go, but the average is 30MW.

What is the duration of the contract period?

The agreement is meant to last for two years, but it is extendable if the country finds that there is a need for it to be extended. We have done so in other countries and we hope to provide our services to The Gambia as long as needed. That is the flexibility we give as a company, in which we fully cater to the needs of the country we partner with. We  can also increase capacity if the country feels it is necessary to expand electricity generation capacity. So basically, this is a great starting for us in the partnership we have with The Gambia and we hope to stay for many more years to come.

Since you started operations in May. What have been some of the key problems you had to grapple with?

We had some challenges at the beginning of the project just like any other project of this nature. Sometimes they are due to unforeseen circumstances, like adverse weather conditions.  For example, I think many people in the country will remember what happened around the beginning of the rainy season when we had a windstorm and it broke some transmission lines. Those kinds of problems may take several hours or even a day or two to fix.

Is Nawec satisfied with your performance since you started operations in May?

Our understanding is, Nawec is very happy with our performance and partnership; and the feeling is mutual. We have a very well-coordinated and cordial relationship because we are all keeping our eyes on the ball to ensure that there is efficiency and effectiveness as far as power generation is concerned and I think almost everybody in the country can agree with us that things have improved in this area. We do have some challenges but we are really working very hard to make sure that we mitigate   those challenges, both in terms of infrastructure and capacity.

I am sure you didn’t just come and plug into Nawec’s system and bingo, transmit power.

No, these are complex technical matters in terms of interfacing and synching systems etc. We had (and still have)  many Nawec staff onboard the powership as we speak. And we have some personnel from our local partner who are also onboard the ship and are trained on how to use the ship as these are are computerised systems. Further, we also always have our own engineers on board who have been trained to do exactly this at our other project locations. When we first arrived in The Gambia, these groups all worked together very diligently to ensure that we have a fast-track route for access to electricity.

Something noteworthy about Karpowership is its attitude towards observing its corporate social responsibility (CSR). We have seen foreign companies who came, set up shops here and repatriate billions of dalasis but you don’t hear them doing anything with regard to giving back to the community. But in the few months Karpowership has been here, it has been very visible in that regard. During Ramadan it gave out sugar and rice to needy Gambians and recently it helped the NEA in its International Coastal Cleanup Day activities. What does CSR mean to Karpowership?

Corporate social responsibility is something that we take very seriously as an organisation. We are very proactive when it comes to CSR. We don’t have to wait until things happen and then we try to react to them. These are plans that are laid down. You will be seeing more of these activities. As you rightly said, during Ramadan we gave assistance to needy families. We think this is of paramount importance. Prominent among those people that we gave assistance to were fishermen and fisherwomen who work around the beach as we are anchored very close to them. We interact with them directly or indirectly. Some of them sail their boats around the powership to go fishing. We thought that we should take care of people generally, and particularly,  these people. Aside that, we operate from the sea and anything that has to do with cleaning the coast, we participate in. We also actively support education in other countries.

You talked about your engagements outside The Gambia. Which other African countries are you involved in and what capacities are you generating for those countries?

We are in different countries in Africa and some other places outside Africa. We are and have been in The Gambia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Zambia, Mozambique and outside Africa we are and have been operating  in places like Lebanon, Iraq and Indonesia. Since 2010, 19 powerships have been completed with total installed capacity exceeding 3,000 MW. Additional 5,000MW of powerships are either under construction or in the pipeline.

So whichever country faces electricity needs – sometimes necessitated by natural disasters – the best company that can be approached is Karpowership. We have that flexibility and swift response system to ensure that power is restored where it is really needed in the quickest possible time. Karpowership provides fast-track delivery, high efficiency, and all integrated ‘plug&play’ project execution. We have an average of a three -month period between the time an agreement is signed for power generation and the actual time the power generation starts. I think that is very swift when it comes to electricity supply. Those who know about power stations will definitely agree with me.

Extended and major blackouts in the Greater Banjul Area in The Gambia are a thing of the past and I think to a very great extent it is because of Karpowership. However, we have the occasional power outs. What exactly are you doing with Nawec to eliminate these ‘brownouts’ so that we can have steady, normal and uninterrupted electricity supply as in other countries?

We have done the same in other countries where they used to have similar problems like in The Gambia, where sometimes there are issues with the gridlines. We are actively working and partnering with Nawec to address that issue. We have the expertise to fix the problem. So currently we are working on that and we are very hopeful in the near future this problem will be eliminated as complex as it might seem.

Any final final words?

I want to thank you very much for this opportunity. I think what we are providing for The Gambia is very important. I am a Gambian. And I feel very proud to be serving the good people of The Gambia. I know what I was living under with regard to power outages and I was one of those who was very desperate about finding a way to fix the issue. I never, even remotely, had an idea that I will ever be involved directly with the solution. It is a daunting challenge and it would require collective will and collaboration at all levels to solve the problem. But we are optimistic and given the political will and support from the current government, we will sort out the electricity problem in The Gambia. We wish the government and the people of The Gambia a happier new year and extend hearty compliments of the season to all who benefit from our services and continue to patronise us.