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SADC, partners strategize on regional energy development

SADC, partners strategize on regional energy development

By Kizito Sikuka –

Southern Africa is endowed with a wealth of energy resources that include solar, hydro, wind and coal, yet the region continues to be affected by electricity shortages. The mismatch is unjustified and needs to be urgently addressed.

In fact, for more than a decade the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has been experiencing an electricity shortfall that has forced most countries in the region to implement demand side management programmes such as load shedding.

While load shedding has to some extent succeeded in restraining the overall electricity demand in the region, the measure has greatly affected socio-economic development since the availability of energy is one of the key enablers of sustainable development.

Availability of energy is also essential to efforts to drive forward the industrialization agenda of southern Africa, and ensuring that SADC achieves its long-standing goal of a united, prosperous and integrated region.

To address the energy challenges faced by the region, SADC and its energy sector cooperating partners met in Gaborone, Botswana this week to discuss ways of ensuring a coordinated approach to regional energy development. The SADC Energy Thematic Group (ETG) meeting was on 12 October.

The SADC ETG consists of representatives of the SADC Secretariat, SADC energy subsidiary organisations, International Cooperating Partners (ICPs) and a knowledge partner, the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC).

The lead ICP for the energy sector is Austria. SARDC is tasked with raising awareness among stakeholders about key regional energy issues.

According to the draft agenda, the meeting will discuss a wide range of issues, including progress on the implementation of priority energy activities, programmes and projects as well as investment in new projects.

The region plans to commission more than 7,000 megawatts (MW) of new generation capacity in 2017, a development that is expected to strengthen energy security.

With regard to renewable energy, SADC aims to achieve a renewable energy mix in the regional grid of at least 32% by 2020 and 35% by 2030.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), southern Africa is a potential “gold mine” for renewable energy due to the abundant solar and wind resources that are now hugely sought after by international investors in their quest for clean energy.

The SADC region is also hugely endowed with watercourses such as the Congo and Zambezi, with the Inga Dam situated on the Congo River having the potential to produce about 40,000MW of electricity, according to SAPP.

With respect to investment in new energy projects, the region needs about US$114 billion to US$233 billion between 2012 and 2027 to develop additional electricity generation capacity, according to the Energy Sector Plan of the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan.

The region showcased a chest of priority energy projects to ICPs and other potential investors during an investment forum held in Swaziland in July.

Priority power generation projects included the US$4 billion Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme being jointly promoted by Zambia and Zimbabwe and involving construction of two underground power caverns – one on the north side of the Zambezi River between the two countries and another on the south side.

Each of the generation plants will have installed generation capacity of 1,200MW for a combined 2,400MW.

Another priority power generation project is the Songwe River Basin Development Programme, a transboundary initiative involving Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in May that will see the neighbours work together to develop the programme, prepared with the support of the African Water Facility and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility, both hosted by the AfDB.

The project, estimated to cost US$760 million, involves building a multipurpose dam to collect water for a 320-megawatt hydro powerhouse, provision of water for an irrigation scheme covering about 3,000 hectares in each country, and control floods in the densely populated lower part of the basin.

Other generation projects showcased were the Lesotho Highlands Phase II Hydropower Scheme and five solar photovoltaic projects being developed by the Swaziland Electricity Company.

The proposed Lesotho Highlands Phase II Hydropower Scheme is being jointly developed by Lesotho and South Africa at an estimated cost of US$1.8 billion and will involve the development of a hydropower project that is expected to provide between 1,000 and 1,200MW of electricity to Lesotho and the rest of the region.

Feasibility studies for the project have been completed but these need to be supplemented by ongoing market studies and power purchase agreement option studies that are due to be completed by the end of 2017.

Among the power transmission projects showcased at the conference were the Angola-Namibia Interconnector, the Mozambique-Malawi Interconnector and the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya (ZTK) Power Interconnector.

The three interconnectors are important in that they will connect the power networks of three non-operating members of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) – Angola, Malawi and Tanzania – to the regional grid.

The ZTK will not only link Tanzania to the SAPP grid, but also connect the Eastern African Power Pool to SAPP, allowing countries in eastern Africa to share surplus electricity with those in southern Africa.

SAPP is a regional body that coordinates the planning, generation, transmission and marketing of electricity in southern Africa on behalf of member state utilities.

To be held back-to-back with the ETG meeting will be a joint meeting with the SADC Water Strategy Reference Group (WSRG) to explore the “water-energy” nexus to promote better coordination among stakeholders.

This is because the development and management of water resources can potentially affect energy issues or vice versa because action in one area impacts on the other.

Water extraction and distribution, for example, require the availability of adequate energy supplies, while energy production requires water.

This water-energy nexus, therefore, demands that countries and regions come up with innovative ways of finding a balance between these competing needs to promote socio-economic development, while at the same time ensuring that development of one of the needs does not affect the other.

Balancing and integrating these linkages is even more important now that most countries in the region are experiencing economic growth, population growth and improving living standards – factors that have put more pressure on water and energy resources.

Additional challenges such as climate change are also threatening these resources. In this regard, the joint ETG-WSRG meeting is expected to unpack the synergies and trade-offs between water and energy use.

About The Author

SADC Correspondent

SADC correspondents are independent contributors whose work covers regional issues of southern Africa outside the immediate Namibian ambit. Ed.