We cheer for the African teams, so we’re a little conflicted with the USA-Ghana grudge match in the World Cup tonight. We harbor no illusions about USA’s chances to win the tournament. But at least we’ll have the electricity to watch it.

In Ghana, a vast gap between electricity generation capacity and consumer demand threatens to interfere with Ghanaians’ ability to follow every nail-biting minute of play. Usually, scheduled outages leave wide portions of the country blacked out every day. Residents without power during the opening ceremony and Brazil-Croatia match were incensed enough; but for Ghana’s moment of potential glory tonight, outage would be unbearable. Thus, the government has announced it will take these measures to ensure the power will stay on during games:

  • Running every plant (Ghana only has five) at full capacity;
  • Negotiating a 50MW purchase from neighbor Ivory Coast;
  • and most notably, asking the nation’s largest aluminum smelter, Valco, to reduce its operations during games.

Having everyone use a high-power appliance like a television at once adds serious strain to an already insufficient system. We wondered: how much capacity would it really take to allow every Ghanaian with a TV to watch the game?

Approximately 60% of households own a TV,[1] making an estimated 3 million sets in the country.  Although wattage varies widely by TV type, we assume a typical set uses 100 watts. So across the country, Ghana would need 300 MW just to supply electricity to each television during the match. That’s 14% of the country’s total installed capacity.[2]

Since the system is already maxed out, if Valco is absorbing the rest of this bump in demand it would have to decrease its consumption by 250 MW.  Valco represents a major stake of Ghana’s industrial sector, which is 27.3% of GDP. The World Cup continues for a full month, with 96 hours of game-time—a total of 24,000 MWh in reduced power. That’s equivalent to 1,400 tonnes of foregone aluminum production, potentially worth up to USD 3 million.[3]

That’s a pretty steep sacrifice for the love of game and country. Of course this is a hypothetical exercise and an extreme case—not everyone will watch every match, and there will probably still be blackouts despite the government’s guarantees. But these kinds of difficult tradeoffs are further evidence that a lack of power infrastructure is holding back emerging economies. Hopefully, by the next USA-Ghana matchup in 2018, government investment along with efforts like the Power Africa Initiative and the Electrify Africa Act will have increased capacity enough to allow all fans to watch and cheer without the cost.

Hat tip to Rob Morello for flagging the article.

[1] Afrobarometer, 2012. Round 5 Summary of Results.

[3] Assuming 16.2 MWh/tonne and world aluminum prices of USD 2,060.  Energy Commission, Ghana. 2013. Energy (Supply and Demand) Outlook for Ghana.