Southern Africa and its energy sector cooperating partners are meeting in Botswana in late February to discuss ways of improving a coordinated approach to addressing the energy situation in the region.
The SADC region has been experiencing a crippling power shortage that was first detected as early as 1999.
This situation has forced most countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to implement demand-side management policies such as load shedding that have to some extent succeeded in restraining overall electricity demand in the region.
However, load shedding has also had a negative impact on companies by forcing them to scale down production due to limited electricity, thereby affecting socio-economic development.
The SADC Energy Thematic Group (ETG) meeting scheduled for Gaborone, Botswana on 26 February is expected to discuss initiatives being undertaken by the region to ensure that power supplies meet demand.
The SADC ETG consists of representatives of the SADC Secretariat, SADC subsidiary organisations, International Cooperating Partners (ICPs) and the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC). The lead ICP for the energy sector is Austria.
SARDC is tasked with raising regional awareness among stakeholders in southern Africa about key energy issues in the region.
According to a draft agenda, the SADC ETG will discuss the ongoing review of the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP), looking at the current status, the role of the SADC Secretariat and the way forward.
Infrastructure development, including in the energy sector, is one of the top priorities to be pursued under the revised RISDP.
The Revised RISDP, which is in the final stages of preparation and is expected to be presented at an Extraordinary SADC Summit scheduled for Zimbabwe in April, identifies four main priorities to be pursued by the region from 2015-2020.
Priority A seeks to promote industrial development and market integration through, among other things, strengthening the productive competitiveness and supply side capacity of member states as well as improving movement of goods and facilitating financial market integration and monetary cooperation.
Priority B is on provision and improvement of infrastructure support for regional integration.
Energy is a critical area of this pillar of the Revised RISDP and considerable preparatory work has been done in this area to develop enabling policies, systems and processes that will greatly facilitate project preparation as well as help to attract private sector investments and further promote public-private partnerships.
Priority D is on promotion of special programmes of regional dimension under clusters such as education and human resource development; health, HIV and AIDS and other communicable diseases; food security and trans-boundary natural resources; environment; statistics; gender equality; and science, technology and innovation and research and development.
The above three priorities will be underpinned by Priority C on promotion of peace and security.
Other issues to be discussed during the ETG meeting include the formulation of the SADC Renewable Energy Strategy and Action Plan 2015 to 2020 (RESAP I).
The strategy and action plan aim to encourage the region to achieve a renewable energy mix of at least 32 percent by 2020, which should rise to 35 percent by 2030. Currently, SADC generates about 74 percent of its electricity from coal thermal stations.
Renewable energy sources, which are in abundance across the region, are not yet considered as major contributors to the region’s electricity needs, save for hydropower that accounts for about 20 percent of SADC’s total energy generation.
The meeting will also deliberate on the proposed establishment of the SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE).
The establishment of SACREE is expected to increase the uptake of clean energy in southern Africa, enabling the region to address its energy challenges.
Various cooperating partners 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 SACREE Secretariat.
At least five countries are vying for the right to host the proposed regional centre for the promotion of renewable energy in southern Africa.
These are Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. However, the bid by South Africa is subject to parliamentary approval.
A decision on the host nation is expected to be made when SADC Energy Ministers meet for their annual meeting this year.
According to the African Development Bank, the SADC 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 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.