Drought threatens Sadc electricity generation capacity

Meteorologists and climate change experts converged in Kinshasa, DRC in August this year for the 19th Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF-19) and predicted that the region is likely to receive insufficient rainfall during the forthcoming cropping season that runs from October 2015 to March 2016.

The news threw the region into an uncomfortable corner considering that it was just coming from another challenging season characterized by floods in some parts of the region and drought in others which had far reaching implications on the Sadc region’s food security and energy situation. In this lead question and answer piece, Sifelani Tsiko (ST) our Southern Times Senior Writer speaks to the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP) Coordination Centre Manager, Dr Lawrence Musaba (LM) on what is at stake as the Sadc region braces for another devastating drought that could seriously affect its electricity generation capacity with far-reaching implications on the socio-economic position of this 15-member economic bloc.

ST:    Weather experts who met recently at the 19th Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) in Kinshasa, DRC concluded that the entire southern Africa sub-continent is likely to receive normal to below normal rainfall for the period October to December (OND) 2015 and the January to March (JFM) 2016. What is the likely impact of this on power generation in the Sadc region?

LM: The SADC region relies on water for part of its generation. A drought in the region has a negative impact on generation hence if the weather forecast does not project good rains, as a region this is of concern from a power generation point of view.

ST:  Are we as a region likely to experience serious power shortfalls in the 2015 to 2016 period given that already there is reduced output from Lake Kariba owing to water cuts for power generation?

LM: Reduced generation output from Kariba Dam will definitely affect our generation supply in general. This is particularly so for Zambia and Zimbabwe that relies on generation from the Kariba dam. In fact the impacts are already being felt by the two countries as we speak. However because of the existence of the SAPP, the impact is minimised in a way as the two countries are able to import (where possible) power from other SAPP members who have predominantly coal generation resources.

ST: Is it possible to give the probable power generation capacity for each Sadc country and the region as a whole that may be experienced owing to drought that may affect some of the countries?

LM: SAPP operating (available) generation capacity is currently at around 47,000 MW of which around 21% of this is from hydro generation. When there is drought, it is mainly the hydro generation that is affected but this does not mean that all the 21% will not be available. As an example Kariba generation output currently is constrained to around 50% of the total capacity due to water restrictions.

ST:  Also give us a summary outlining where the bulk of energy for Sadc countries comes from? e.g. coal, water, gas, nuclear and others…

LM: South Africa provides more than 80% of the total generation capacity of the SADC region. South Africa is predominantly coal generation. Hydro component is currently around 21%, coal 70%, nuclear 3% and others 6% (renewable, distillate and CCGT).

ST:  Is it possible to quantify the probable deficit/surplus in monetary terms or megawatts that may arise owing to a drought that is likely to affect most Sadc countries?

LM: When there is drought, the limitation is basically on the energy output (MWh) from the generation stations which eventually also limits the MW output from the affected hydro stations. As an example Kariba currently is operating at around 50% of its installed capacity (around 475MW on the Zimbabwean side from installed capacity of 750MW). The output may vary from time to time but the water allocation would determine the energy output over time.

ST:  According to SAPP, southern Africa plans to commission 24,062MW of power between 2015 and 2019 if all proposed projects come on stream. Do you think this development will see the region finally meeting its power needs after several years of shortages? To what extent will this avert serious power shortages in the coming year when drought affects most Sadc countries?

LM: If the SADC region power generation projects are implemented as planned this will go a long way in increasing the generation supply for the region. However the region is currently load shedding, a sign that there is significant suppressed demand.

As a result the moment there is an increase in generation supply we have noted that demand will also increase.

In other words it is like chasing a moving target.

As supply goes up demand will also go up. This makes it difficult to say with certainty that we will have enough supply to meet demand by such and such a year. However from our current demand projections and planned generation capacities as indicated we should be able to meet demand by around 2019.

ST: What are some of the short-term and long term strategies that could be taken by Sadc countries in the wake of the looming drought next year?

LM:  The SAPP has a platform for members to trade power on a short term and long term basis. This helps those members that are affected by drought to be assisted by those members that would be in a way okay from a generation point of view. SAPP is also carrying out demand side management programmes to manage demand in the advent of a generation shortfall.

ST:  What has been the uptake of renewable energy by southern African countries to increase the uptake of cleaner energy sources that result in reduced carbon emission?

LM: Renewable energy is growing in the SAPP. This has been more significant in South Africa where the renewable energy programme has been quite successful with IPPs playing a critical role. In the SAPP planned generation for the period 2015-2019, 3% of the new generation to be installed is coming from renewable energy (wind and solar).

ST: Do you think SAPP will achieve a renewable energy mix in the regional grid of at least 32 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2030?

LM: 32% from renewable energy by 2020 and 36% by 2030 will be a massive milestone to achieve especially judging from where we are at the moment.

September 2015
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