SADC must speed up power projects

 

Reports that SADC member states could face a serious power crunch during the festive season because South Africa’s power utility Eskom is currently struggling to meet that country’s rising needs and will be forced to stop electricity exports to its neighbours are once again an indictment on the region to move with speed to address the power situation.

SADC has been experiencing power shortages dating as far back as 2006 due to a combination of factors including the lack of investment in the energy sector.

Hydro and thermal power plants are capital intensive projects and given the competing needs in the national budgets of the 15-member grouping, it is essential to look to other sources of energy.

Even when the capital is available to undertake these power projects, the construction takes time while industries, commerce and domestic consumers battle load-shedding and blackouts. For example Zimbabwe, which has been failing to meet electricity demand, has started projects to build small thermal and hydro-power stations to improve the situation. But the Zimbabwean government says the projects will take three years to complete. In the wake of these challenges, the SADC bloc must seriously look at alternative sources of energy such as wind and solar, which are renewable. 

It is no longer a secret that the world is fast running out of traditional sources of energy such as coal. Furthermore, emissions from these fossil fuels increase climate warming causing environmental damage, droughts and floods. The global community is being encouraged to start preparing for the future by embracing the use of renewable energy sources. For regions such as SADC which were already facing power shortages the alternative sources of energy are top priority. SADC is already in the process of establishing a regional centre for the promotion of renewable in southern Africa. At least five countries Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are vying to host the proposed SADC Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. The establishment of the regional centre and the choice of the host country awaits the annual SADC Energy Ministers meeting.

However, the Energy Ministers’ meeting, which was scheduled for September in Malawi was postponed after Malawi said it was not able to host the meeting due to various challenges. Mauritius has since been approached to serve as an alternative host. The decision of the SADC Energy Ministers will be forwarded to the SADC Council in February next year, which must give final approval. The establishment regional centre is expected to increase uptake of clean energy in the region, enabling southern Africa to address its energy challenges.

Besides investing in new power plants and renewable energy sources, the region must intensify awareness campaigns for citizens and businesses to conserve electricity. The region should also speed up projects that are envisaged to improve the electricity situation in SADC. For example construction of the Mozambique-Zimbabwe-South Africa (MoZiSa) Transmission Project, linking Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe is expected to improve connectivity and electricity trading in southern Africa.

All the power utilities in mainland SADC, with the exception of Angola, Malawi and Tanzania, are interconnected through the Southern African Power Pool, allowing them to sell electricity to one another through a competitive market.

The MoZiSa project has the capacity to improve access to power through the regional grid, allowing the smooth transfer of electricity between and among SADC member states.

December 2014
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