Solar: Panacea to SADC’s energy crisis

 

Energy deficit in the region of Southern African Development Community (SADC) is one of the biggest challenges affecting socio-economic growth, as most of the economic drivers (mining, agriculture as well as manufacturing) in the regional grouping’s member states require uninterrupted power supply.

Forlornly, energy demands in most, if not all, SADC countries continue to surpass supply. In fact, load-shedding and power rationing have become the order of the day in these nations.

Countries in the regional bloc, sadly, have failed to invest adequately in renewable energy sources such as solar, despite abundant resources.

SADC, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB), has the potential to become a ‘gold mine’ for renewable energy due to abundant solar and wind resources.

This, therefore, means the region that needs more solar energy is SADC, to say the words of Craig Mapedzamombe, an expert in harnessing solar energy, because most countries in Southern Africa receive more than 2 500 hours of sunshine per year.

“Solar energy is a solution to SADC’s power crisis because the region has sunshine all year round. It is an alternative energy source and a potential key driver of the economy,” he notes.

Mapedzamombe goes on to say, “Southern Africa, therefore, needs to harness solar energy to provide power on a smaller scale as well as to use this energy to help with day-to-day needs such as small-scale electrification.”

Sharing same views, Jean Philippe Prosper, International Finance Corporation (IFC) Vice President for Global Client Services, says: “Solar is a key step towards promoting sustainable universal access to modern energy in Africa. By quickly delivering affordable electricity to previously unreached populations, significant progress can be made on other development goals.”

Johan Cilliers, a Certified General Electric (GE) Six Sigma Green Belt, adds: “Solar power is not the only solution to Southern Africa’s energy crisis, but could help alleviate it. Obviously there needs to be an integration of all our energy sources to provide the best possible solution.”

Professor Dr Dieter Holm, an internationally well-known energy expert, believes solar energy has a “bright future in sunny Southern Africa”; therefore, it can help foster the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy.

It is not in dispute that solar power is one of the most accessible forms of renewable energy in Southern Africa, but the people that produce solar are outside the region.

This demands response to this all-important question, “Why cannot SADC make what its people need?”

The problem is that the countries within the regional bloc rely heavily on donors and aid from foreign countries. The time is, therefore, now for SADC member-states to make their own initiatives and use vast natural resources to raise capital and produce solar products and technologies for their respective states.

Large-scale photovoltaic solar power, for example, can be quickly and economically developed to increase the supply of electricity to national grids and improve the reliability of power services for households and businesses.

Scaling Solar, recently launched by the World Bank, provides a straightforward package to help countries determine the size and location of projects, then auction them competitively to developers. It lowers the cost of solar by helping governments to procure solar power competitively as well as enhance the provision of sustainable energy in Africa.

The initiative also offers a framework that allows countries to rapidly and efficiently mobilise private capital into solar projects with high development impact without having to start from scratch, according to Edith P. Quintrell, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency’s Director of Operations.

Accordingly, SADC countries must take advantage of this initiative and embrace support from various cooperating partners such as the Austrian Development Agency and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) if the region is to be the hub of solar production.

Meanwhile, to produce solar as well as improve solar business in the region, governments must also control the kind of solar products that enter their respective countries. Community participation as well as support from states, clean energy experts, development practitioners and private partners can also go a long way to propagate the uptake of solar products and technologies.

There is need, though, to adopt measures to rouse the uptake of such products and technologies.

Since fostering renewable energy is one of the initiatives captured in the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan Vision that was adopted by the Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government held in Maputo (Mozambique) in 2012, governments within the region must set aside a small percentage of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for solar products and technologies so as to increase the uptake of clean energy in the region.

However, political and business leaders need to clear obstacles, including the unique features and structures of the different markets, high transaction costs, heavily negotiated agreements, and high perceived risk and cost of capital if the SADC region is to address its energy challenges.

February 2015
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