Joseph Ngwawi Features Correspondent
The SADC region is poised to become a major continental source of energy if current plans to boost generation capacity are implemented. With plans to build new short-term generation projects to add more than 21,500 megawatts (MW) by 2017, southern Africa holds the key to the continent’s efforts to achieve energy self-sufficiency.
This region is also in the forefront of developing renewable, clean energy sources.
Southern Africa is home to the world’s largest proposed hydropower scheme, the Grand Inga, which is the centrepiece of a grand vision to develop a continent-wide power system.
Located in western Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), about 50 km upstream of the mouth of the Congo River and 225km southwest of the capital Kinshasa, Grand Inga is expected to generate 40,000MW when completed.
Based on a feasibility study conducted between 2011 and 2013, Grand Inga will be constructed in six development phases, with the Inga III Dam and hydropower project being the first of these phases.
When completed, Inga III will produce 4,800MW of electricity.
The proposed dam is the fourth and largest of a series of dams that have been built or are proposed for the lower end of the Congo River.
The dam site is on the largest waterfall in the world by volume, the Inga Falls — a series of falls and rapids that drop in elevation via small rapids.
The falls are incorporated into the current Inga 1 and Inga II hydroelectric facilities, with the volume of the river diverted some 30 percent of the average discharge.
The power generated will be double the capacity of the largest dam in the world, the Three Gorges Dam in China.The DRC and South Africa signed a Memorandum of Understanding in November 2011 for the development of Grand Inga and followed that up with a cooperation Treaty in May 2013 to jointly develop the Inga III Dam.
South Africa will purchase 2,500MW of the total 4,300MW generated, making it the principal buyer for Inga III electricity.
The DRC has commenced the process of selecting a developer, with a number of consortia currently bidding for selection as developers of the Grand Inga.
These include SinoHydro and the Three Gorges Corporation from China, Actividades de Construcion y Servicios, and Eurofinsa, both of Spain, and Daewoo-Posco from South Korea.
Construction is planned to commence in 2016 following the conclusion of social and environmental assessment studies.
The Grand Inga mega-project is a priority for a number of Africa development organisations, including SADC and the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
Grand Inga dam has been estimated to cost more than US$80 billion, including the cost of the transmission lines needed to carry its power across Africa and potentially to Europe.
Another SADC country, Angola, has also announced plans to quadruple its power generation capacity from the current 2,250MW to about 9,000MW by 2025. Energy and Water Minister João Baptista Borges said most of the power will come from the Middle Kwanza hydropower station, Lauca station and the Central Cambambe hydro plant.
“Our ultimate goal is to reach 9,000MW by 2025,” he said, adding that, “This means multiplying by four the current capacity, our great resource is hydropower production.”
At least US$23 billion has already been invested by Angola in the energy sector to rehabilitee and expand some of the existing power plants.
“The rehabilitation of power station and the expansion of the distribution networks of these dams are our priorities because we want to be part of the best producers of power in Africa, as well as produce and distribute the energy to the Angolan population,” the Secretary of State for Water, Luís Filipe da Silva, said.
Key activities to fall under the investment include the construction of a hydropower station at Lauca Dam which will add 2,060 MW into the national system whilst another Combined Cycle Station with a production capacity of 750 MW will be constructed.
SADC also plans to launch the proposed SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE). This should be launched by September 2014 under a revised roadmap agreed by SADC and development partners.
According to the revised roadmap, a preparatory phase runs from January to July 2014.
This would be followed by the first operational phase running for three years, which includes the official launch by September this year.
SADC is working closely with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) to accelerate implementation within the revised timelines.
The proposed centre would, among other things, spearhead the promotion of renewable energy development in the region.
It 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.
It has been 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 co-operating partners such as UNIDO and ADA 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 although a number of SADC countries have expressed interest in hosting it.
Establishment of the SACREE 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. 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.— sardc.net.