A comprehensive and consolidated agenda on how southern Africa could fully harness its renewable energy potential is expected to be finalised in July when energy ministers convene for their annual meeting.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is endowed with renewable energy sources including hydro, wind and solar.
According to the African Development Bank, the total hydropower potential in SADC countries is estimated at about 1,080 terawatt hours per year (TWh/year) but capacity being utilised at present is just under 31 TWh/year. A terawatt is equal to one million megawatts (MW).
The region also has an abundance of watercourses such as the Congo and Zambezi, with the Inga Dam situated on the Congo River having the potential to produce about 40,000 MW of electricity, according to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP).
With regard to geothermal, the United Nations Environment Programme and the Global Environment Facility estimate that about 4,000MW of electricity is available along the Rift Valley in the United Republic of Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.
However, at present there are low levels of renewable energy penetration and use across the region. This is largely attributed to a number of factors, including lack of effective legislative and regulatory frameworks that would support market development.
The 34th SADC Energy Ministers meeting scheduled for 21-23 July in South Africa is expected to address these challenges and develop a comprehensive plan on how the region could fully harness its renewable energy potential to meet its growing demand.
According to the draft agenda, the ministers will deliberate on the establishment of the proposed SADC Centre for Renewable and Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE).
The centre would, among other things, spearhead the promotion of renewable energy development in the region.
SACREEE is expected to contribute substantially to the development of thriving regional renewable energy and energy efficiency markets through knowledge-sharing and technical advice in the areas of policy and regulation, technology cooperation, capacity development as well as investment promotion.
At least four countries are vying for the right to host the proposed regional centre for the promotion of renewable energy in southern Africa.
These are Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The name of the host country is expected to be announced during the SADC Energy Ministers Meeting.
Another major issue is the review of the draft SADC Regional Energy Strategy and Plan of Action (RESAP)
The RESAP aims to encourage the region to achieve a renewable energy mix of at least 32 percent by 2020, which should rise to 35 percent by 2030. Currently, SADC generates about 74 percent of its electricity from thermal stations.
Renewable energy sources, which are in abundance across the region, are not yet major contributors to the region’s electricity needs, save for hydropower that accounts for about 20 percent of SADC’s total energy generation.
The ministers are also expected to discuss on the contextualization of the SADC Energy Programme in line with the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP) approved in 2012.
The RIDMP is a regional plan that leads all future cooperation and planning in infrastructure development in the region.
Under this ambitious infrastructure plan, SADC aims to develop cross-border infrastructure in the six priority areas of energy, transport, tourism, water, information communication technology and meteorology.
The plan for the energy sector has identified 73 power generation projects to increase generation from the current 56,000 megawatts (MW) and ensure that the projected demand of 96,000MW is surpassed by 2027.
Other issues for discussion during the ministers meeting will be the state of electricity regulation in the region.
SADC adopted the principle of cost-reflective tariffs as far back as 2004. However, most countries are failing to migrate to cost-reflective electricity tariffs due to challenges in raising local tariffs to cushion consumers.
A recent survey conducted by Regional Electricity Regulators Association of Southern Africa showed that the region’s energy sector is not self-sustaining.
For example, hydroelectricity generation – which is the most common method of producing power in the region – costs between 6 and 8 US cents to produce a kWh while it costs an average 7.5 USc to make a kWh of electricity using coal-fired power stations.
Such tariffs are considered as not providing the right signals for new investment and efficient use of electricity.
SADC ministers will also review the status of implementation of various energy projects and programme planned over the next years.
For example, this year alone, SAPP plans to commission new projects that will add 2,763MW to the regional grid as the region targets to meet its electricity needs by the end of 2018.
According to SAPP, southern Africa plans to commission 24,062MW of power between 2015 and 2019 if all proposed projects come on stream.
This development will see the region finally meeting its power needs after several years of shortages.
The region has been facing challenges in meeting its energy requirements since the early 2000s, forcing most SADC Member States to implement demand-side management policies such as load shedding that have, to some extent, succeeded in restraining overall electricity demand in the region.
The last SADC Energy Ministers meeting was held in 2013 in Maseru, Lesotho. The 2014 meeting was originally scheduled for Malawi in May of that year but was postponed to allow the country to prepare for its general elections.
The decisions of the energy ministers will be forwarded to the SADC Council of Ministers for final approval at their next meeting ahead of the 2015 SADC Heads of State and Government Summit set for Gaborone, Botswana in August. – Sardc.net