It is now common knowledge that the majority of SADC member states are facing an acute shortage of energy as power utilities in the region grapple with growing demand for electricity and low generation capacity.
It follows that as the population and industrial and commercial activities expand, the region would need more power to sustain its population and power its industries.
But, as we have pointed out before, there has not been enough investment in this sector in most countries across the region in years — from Angola to Zimbabwe. There has been talk of Grand Inga Dam project in the Democratic Republic of Congo being the panacea of not only SADC’s power problems, but the entire Africa.
This will, however, not come overnight as there are huge costs involved, which Africa does not afford at the moment. Most countries on the continent face serious budgetary constraints and cannot afford to invest in power generation.
In fact, most power stations in the region are a legacy from the colonial era. Granted, the demand for power today far outstrips demand during the colonial and apartheid eras because during those dark years, electricity was the preserve of the minority white colonisers.
However, there is need for governments in the region to take the initiative and make serious investment in the power sector, be it thermal, hydro or solar.
With climate change here to stay, hydro electricity will face serious challenges as water levels in dams and rivers will dwindle while lesser and lesser rains will come our way. Already, the region is experiencing this with Zambia and Zimbabwe being seriously hit after water levels in Kariba Dam, a major source for their power, have gone down to record low levels.
The region has vast quantities of coal and natural gas in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe which, if fully exploited, could be used for power generation. We are well aware of global efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels as part of measures to fight climate change, but we believe the exploitation of coal and gas for power generation as well as industrial production in the region would not be harmful to the environment compared to mass emissions of fossils in the developed world.
As we report elsewhere in this issue, southern Africa region is turning to solar energy as it takes steps to address challenges caused by shortages of electricity afflicting most countries in the region.
The SADC region is regarded as one of Africa’s “sunbelts” and endowed with one of the world’s best solar radiation zones.
We applaud efforts by the Southern African Solar Thermal Training and Demonstration Initiative (SOLTRAIN), a regional initiative on capacity building and demonstration of solar thermal systems in the SADC region, to develop cleaner forms of energy for the region.
Through this initiative, we are told five countries — Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe — have already benefited.
We believe solar is one of the renewable alternative sources of energy that the region must fully take advantage of and exploit for the benefit of its citizens, at cheaper costs.
As the old adage goes, where there is a will there is a way, we believe there is political will to take SADC forward in terms of integration and development and this can only be done if there is adequate power to fire industry.