The improved electricity generation in southern Africa is a welcome development for the region as energy supply is a key enabler for industrialisation.
Energy shortages experienced over the past few years have constrained development and forced most countries to introduce demand-side management measures such as load shedding
For the first time in a decade, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) is experiencing surplus electricity-generation capacity as a result of regional cooperation in energy planning.
The Acting Coordination Centre Manager of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), Alison Chikova told the Sadc Energy Thematic Group (ETG) meeting held in Gaborone, Botswana in October that excess generation capacity was about 2 616 Megawatts (MW).
He said the trend was likely to continue in the future as “SAPP will commission an average of 5 000MW per year in the next six years.”
However, some introspection is critical due to factors that led to the improved electricity generation in southern Africa.
Does this sudden good fortune in the energy sector mean that Sadc has finally addressed its power challenges?
According to SAPP — which coordinates the planning, generation and transmission of electricity on behalf of power utilities in 12 of the 15 Sadc member states — the current excess in electricity supply is partly a result of an economic slowdown in Sadc.
Most Sadc economies have experienced a slowdown since the global financial crisis of 2008 due to a fall in agriculture, mining and manufacturing production.
In this regard, it is important for the region to continue strategising on regional power development to ensure that the demand for electricity is met when most Sadc member states recover from the economic slowdown.
“The impressive strides we have made in the energy sector should continue,” Chikova said, adding that cooperation among member states is critical, particularly in anticipation of improved economic growth by most countries.
He said availability of electricity is essential to support efforts by the region to drive forward its industrialisation agenda, which aims to ensure that Sadc achieves its longstanding goal of a united, prosperous and integrated region.
Chikova said the drive towards energy self-sufficiency should focus on how southern Africa could harness its vast array of renewable energy resources that include solar, hydro and wind.
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 generously 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.
Chikova said there are plans for Sadc to harness these sources to achieve a renewable energy mix in the regional grid of at least 32 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2030.
Currently, coal is the largest contributor to electricity generation, providing 62 percent of the energy mix, followed by hydro, which contributes 21 percent.
To address this, the majority of the planned new generation projects are earmarked to target renewable energies.
For example, between 2017 and 2022, at least 26 percent of the targeted 28 264 MW of additional power will come from hydro, while 19 percent and 10 percent of the planned additional capacity will come from gas and wind respectively.
Solar is expected to provide about seven percent of the new generation capacity.
Another critical measure to develop a viable and vibrant energy sector in Sadc is the need to build more transmission interconnections across member state borders.
More transmission lines would enable member states to benefit from new generation capacity installed in other countries in the region.
The power infrastructure in mainland Sadc is not fully integrated yet as Angola, Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania are not connected to the regional electricity pool.
This means that new generation capacity installed in any of the three countries is not enjoyed by the other nine SAPP members — Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Chikova said setting up new interconnectors in the region will create new power corridors that can support industrial development and improve energy security in parts of the region without adequate generation capacity.
Some of the planned transmission lines are the Zimbabwe-Zambia-Botswana-Namibia inter-connector project, the Zambia-Namibia power line and the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya interconnector project.
The Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya interconnector project is expected to connect the SAPP grid to the one operated by the Eastern Africa Power Pool in addition to linking the Tanzanian power network to other SAPP member countries. sardc.net