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SADC to establish centre for renewable energy

October 2013
The establishment of a regional centre for renewable energy in southern Africa is expected to increase the uptake of clean energy, enabling the region to address its energy challenges. The Southern African Development Community (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. This is despite the fact that the region has an abundance of energy sources, particularly renewable energy which, if fully harnessed, could boost power generation in the region. In this regard, SADC countries have intensified efforts on how to exploit its renewable energy resources that range from wind, hydro to solar.

One such effort is the proposed establishment of the SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE). The proposed centre would, among other things, spearhead the promotion of renewable energy development in the region.

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.

Energy experts in the region endorse the proposed centre at a meeting held recently in Gaborone, Botswana and organized by the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), which coordinates the planning, generation and transmission of electricity on behalf of member state utilities in SADC.

This follows a directive by the SADC Energy Ministers who urged member states and the Secretariat to speed up the process of finalizing the establishing of the SACREEE. At the Gaborone validation workshop, it was agreed that the centre should be an independent SADC institution that should be owned and supported by SADC member states for sustainability purposes.

Such a development would give the centre more authority to spearhead efforts to increase the uptake of renewable energy sources in the region. Various cooperating partners such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Austrian Development Agency have pledged to provide financial support to the centre for the first three years. After that, the centre should be self-sustaining. The location of the centre is yet to be decided.

Its establishment is expected to see a gradual increase in the uptake of cleaner energy sources that could result in reduced carbon emissions in line with the global trends towards clean and alternative energy sources. Renewable energy sources are less polluting to the environment compared to fossil fuels such as coal.

Furthermore, fossil fuels will not last forever, hence the need for southern Africa to prepare for the future by intensifying efforts to harness its huge renewable energy resources. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), 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 SAPP.

With regard to geothermal, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility estimate that about 4,000MW of electricity is available along the Rift Valley in the United Republic of Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.