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Energy cooperation paying off as SADC records power surplus

by Joseph Ngwawi - SANF 17 no 11
Southern Africa is experiencing surplus electricity generation capacity for the first time in a decade, thanks to the success of regional cooperation in energy planning during the past few years.

Figures released by the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) show that the 12-member pool is sitting on surplus peak period generation capacity of 919 megawatts (MW).

“The excess is much higher if we look at off-peak periods,” Acting SAPP Coordination Centre Manager Alison Chikova told the SADC Energy Thematic Group (ETG) during its biannual meeting in Gaborone, Botswana on 27 March.

He said the excess was partly because of the slowdown in the South African economy but also due to the impact of a coordinated approach in implementation of the SADC energy programme.

South Africa’s economy contracted to 0.3 percent in the last quarter of 2016, due to a fall in mining and manufacturing production.

According to Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), the decline in performance of the two key sectors pulled the overall economic growth into negative territory.

StatsSA figures show that production in the mining industry declined by 11.5 percent as a result of falls in the output of coal, gold and other metal ores such as platinum and iron.

Manufacturing production dropped by 3.1 percent between October and December 2016.

Chikova said South Africa has excess capacity of 5,797MW, largely due to the economic slowdown and the commissioning of 2,550MW of additional generation capacity from six new projects in 2016.

The six projects include the 999MW Ingula power station owned by state enterprise Eskom as well as five others involving power generation through wind, gas and solar photovoltaic technologies that were commissioned by Independent Power Producers (IPPs).

According to the SAPP figures, the increased regional generation capacity was strengthened through the commissioning of new projects in other SAPP member countries.

Angola had largest number of projects commissioned in 2016, contributing 780MW or about 19 percent of the 4,180MW of the new capacity commissioned in the region last year.

Other significant contributions were from Zambia and Zimbabwe where new IPP projects added 300MW and 200MW of power to the regional grid, respectively.

The 300MW Mwaamba coal-fired power project and the 200MW Dema diesel power plant were commissioned in 2016 as part of regional efforts to improve generation capacity in southern Africa.

Chikova revealed that SAPP member countries plan to commission more than 30,000MW of new generation capacity between 2017 and 2022, about half of which would come from South Africa.

However, the increased generation capacity in Angola, Malawi and United Republic of Tanzania is only available domestically as the three countries are yet to be interconnected to the rest of the SAPP grid.

New generation capacity installed in any of the three non-participating countries is not accessible to the nine other members of SAPP – Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

There are plans to tap into the installed capacity of these three SAPP members through the implementation of several interconnector projects.

These include the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya interconnector project that is expected to connect the SAPP grid to the one operated by the Eastern Africa Power Pool – in addition to linking the Tanzanian power network to other SAPP member countries.

The Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya interconnector is expected to be ready by the end of 2019, according to Chikova.

Other interconnector projects are expected between Mozambique and Malawi as well as between Namibian and Angola. The target dates for commissioning these are in 2020.

Gas is increasingly becoming a major source of electricity in the region, accounting for 995MW or almost 24 percent of all power generated in 2016 – from two projects in Mozambique and one each in South Africa and Tanzania.

Unlike in the past where coal-fired plants contributed the largest share of new generation capacity, 2016 saw only one new coal project in Zambia coming on board with a capacity of 300MW.

The move towards renewable energy follows a resolution made in 2012 by southern African countries to increase the uptake of cleaner and alternative energy sources that result in reduced carbon emission that increase climate warming and cause environmental damage.

In addition to being affordable, secure and reliable, renewable energy such as hydro, solar and wind will not be depleted and are also in abundance in the SADC region.

The long-term target set by SADC is to achieve a renewable energy mix in the regional grid of at least 32 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2030.

According to the African Development Bank, southern African alone 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.

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 40,000MW of electricity, according to SAPP.