Renewable energy a worthy alternative

 

The 15-member Southern African Development Community has been experiencing power shortages dating as far back as almost a decade ago due to a number of factors, including lack of investment in the energy sector.

Constrained electricity generation by the power utilities has been affecting industries in the SADC member states thereby hampering economic development. Yet stability of power generation is essential to investment. This state of affairs has seen the SADC regional bloc come up with a combination of ways to deal with the power shortages. Member states are currently building small thermal and hydro-power stations to meet the ever-rising demand for power at domestic and industrial levels.

But given financial constraints some of the projects are taking long to come to fruition at a time the energy demands of the region are rising.

SADC has been battling this scenario despite the fact that the region has an abundance of energy sources, particularly renewable energy, which, if fully harnessed, could greatly boost power generation in the region.

For instance, sunshine and wind are in abundance in the region but the countries have been slow in embracing renewable energy as an alternative to sources such as coal and other fossils. Solar also has the advantage of being cleaner while coal and other sources of energy have a huge bearing on the environment because they involve an incredible amount of mining.

The exploitation of such sources of power has been attributed to the climate change that is bedevilling the world today, resulting in the rise in temperatures, less rainfall being experienced or natural disasters such as floods and droughts.

This is despite the fact that some regions in the world have an abundance of energy sources, particularly renewable energy, which, if fully harnessed, could greatly boost power generation in the region.

It is in this regard that SADC countries have intensified efforts on how to exploit renewable energy resources such as wind, hydropower and solar.

The region is working on establishing the SADC Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREE) to promote the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies in the region.

Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are bidding to host the centre, which is expected to increase the uptake of clean energy in southern Africa, enabling the region to address its energy challenges.

The centre 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.

The African Development Bank says the region has the potential to become a “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.

For example, the overall 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.

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 40 000 MW of electricity, according to the Southern African Power Pool.

November 2014
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