ACCESS TO clean sustainable energy has become part of the international development agenda during the past two decades, reflecting the global recognition of the important role that energy plays in the delivery of basic services and in generating jobs and income.
Widely regarded as the “Missing Millennium Development Goal (MDG)”, energy has a direct impact on the welfare of people, facilitating the supply of water and fuelling agricultural output, helping in the delivery of health and education, creating job and contributing to overall environmental sustainability.
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 (MW).
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 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.
However, at present there are low levels of Renewable Energy (RE) penetration and use across the region. This is largely attributed to a lack of effective legislative and regulatory frameworks that would support market development.
There is overwhelming evidence of underutilisation of RE across the region in spite of there being abundant resources to produce RE.
For instance, research has shown that most countries in southern Africa receive more than 2,500 hours of sunshine per year. This is because the SADC region, and in fact the whole of Africa, has sunshine all year round.
In the majority of cases, RE projects, particularly those involving more than one SADC Member State, often take long to get off the ground. This is partly attributed to the challenges associated with cross-border trade as national interests have the tendency to prevail over regional energy needs.
There is, therefore, need to adopt measures to stimulate the uptake of RE products and technologies. Such measures include making it compulsory for the electricity industry to purchase RE or supply a certain proportion of their energy from renewable sources as well as the development of a guaranteed market.
There is also need for a harmonized sub regional RE framework that will, among other things, result in the reduction of investment costs in RE technologies and improved reliability of the quality of new and renewable energy services.
With all their advantages, solar systems are not cheap to install; a typical home system in the region costs anywhere between US$500 and US$1,000, according to the AfDB.
There is also need to emphasize the importance of community participation in the development of RE products and technologies to ensure ownership and acceptance of the new sources of energy.
Community participation is key to building an empowered society and adds value through the infusion of indigenous knowledge systems into the RE sector.
It is in light of this that the SADC region is developing a centre to promote the uptake of RE products and technologies.
The proposed SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE) is expected to increase the uptake of clean energy in southern Africa, enabling the region to address its energy challenges.
It will, among other things, promote market-based adoption of RE and energy efficiency technologies and services in SADC Member States.
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.
Various cooperating partners such as the Austrian Development Agency and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) have pledged to provide financial support to the centre for the first three years. After that, the centre should be self-sustaining.
Establishment of the centre is expected to be carried out in three phases, the first of which involves the selection of a host country and establishment of the SACREEE Secretariat, which will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the centre.
The management team will be headed by an executive director appointed by the executive board and will consist of various levels of permanent staff to be complemented by consultants and seconded international staff as may be deemed necessary from time to time.
At least five countries are vying for the right to host the centre. Bids to host the SACREEE have been received from Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. South Africa’s bid is, however, subject to parliamentary approval.
Establishment of SACREEE, including the choice of the host country, is awaiting the holding of the annual SADC Energy Ministers meeting.
The Energy Ministers meeting was scheduled for September, but was postponed after Malawi said it was not able to host the meeting due to various challenges.
Mauritius has been approached to serve as alternative host.
The decision of the ministers would be forwarded to the SADC Council in February 2015, which would give final approval.
The Preparatory Phase, that was initially expected to run from January-October 2014, would also see the creation and inauguration of the SACREEE executive board and technical committees.
The composition of the executive board and technical committee will be agreed upon by member states.
The First Operational Phase is expected to run from the end of 2014-2017 during which the centre will primarily focus on developing renewable energy programmes for the region and resource mobilisation. The Second Operational Phase, from 2018-2021, will focus on activities to ensure sustainability of the centre after the exit of international cooperating partners such as UNIDO.