Time Sadc expedites response to power deficit
Sadc member-states need to expedite their response to the electricity deficit in the region if they are to keep pace with developmental trends throughout the world.
The forthcoming 34th Sadc Summit of Heads of State and Government to be held in Victoria Falls must come up with practical resolutions on addressing the power crisis in the region if leaders are serious about development in this part of the continent.
Renewable energy sources is one area that analysts believe has the practical solution to the region’s energy deficiencies.
Electricity demand in Sadc continues to outstrip supply at a time when the region needs to attract investment to boost socio-economic development.
Load-shedding and power rationing have become the order of the day in most Sadc countries and analysts argue that the development has crippled economic growth, since most of the economic drivers, for instance manufacturing and agriculture, require uninterrupted power supply.
Sadc countries have failed to adequately invest in the power sector for decades, yet it was apparent that a time would come when demand surpasses supply to the extent that neighbouring countries would not have excess power.
The southern African region has on countless times mulled a number of initiatives to reduce the power deficit, yet the power crisis that existed in the 1990s is still there, if it has not worsened given that there is a lot of industrialisation and rural to urban migration taking place.
The pace with which these two areas are progressing is not corresponding with the increase in power generation.
The power deficit has continued despite the establishment of the Southern African Power Pool in 1995 to develop a regional electricity infrastructure for the benefit of all countries in Sadc.
Priorities of the Sadc member states seem to lie elsewhere when energy improvement should be at the core of each country’s developmental agenda.
Delays in implementing a number of energy projects in the region has been Sadc’s Achilles heel.
The countries in the region have made several undertakings like making resolutions and drafting strategies of mitigating the energy crisis, yet not much has materialised.
They have talked of the Grand Inga Falls project on the Congo River that was expected to generate more than 40 000 megawatts and supply most of the Sadc countries, but its over a decade now with nothing tangible having come from the project, besides about 1 500MW being generated there.
The Inga power project is on the Grand Inga Dam in the DRC.
It is a fact that big projects require huge capital and as such, African countries, especially those in the Sadc region, have found it difficult to start the big projects.
But there are alternatives that could answer the region’s current problems in the short-term.
The Sadc Heads of State and Government must prioritise renewable energy projects if they are to avert the energy deficit in the short-term.
While renewable energy projects are relatively capital intensive, experts say they are the answer to the region’s energy crisis given the abundance of solar, wind and mini-hydropower opportunities.
Several researches have been conducted, project proposals in renewable energy given thumbs up, yet the Sadc region continues to lag behind in electricity generation despite having readily available renewable energy sources.
Sadc leaders must know that it is not business as usual, given the industrialisation and urban expansion taking place that will definitely result in increased demand for energy.
For instance, Zimbabwe has resolved that platinum miners must start refinery of the precious metal locally from 2016, a move that will require more uninterrupted electricity supply at a time the country is producing electricity that is about half the peak demand of at least 2 200MW.
Development practitioners argue that for development to be sustainable, it has to be socio-economically driven, as such, there is need to ensure people who live in rural areas also have access to electricity of which by now they are rarely connected to the national grid.
The United Nations estimates that more than 60 percent of the population in Africa lives in rural areas, as such having renewable sources of energy would facilitate that the majority of the population have access to electricity, while at the same time reducing deforestation where people rely on firewood for lighting.
It is important to note that while small renewable energy sources projects may be desirable, huge renewable energy stations remain the answer to Sadc’s energy crisis.
The reason most of the energy projects mulled by the region have not materialised is because of reliance on donors, instead of the countries making their own initiatives to raise capital.
Donor countries who are expected to fund these projects are also facing their own economic challenges, so it would be difficult for them to fund mega projects in Africa.
Commenting on the funding gap affecting African projects, Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa recently said governments must set aside just one percent of their Gross Domestic Product for infrastructure.
That could then be pooled for electricity projects to guarantee socio-economic development.
Research findings indicate that over half a billion Africans without access to modern forms of energy spend at least US$10 billion annually buying alternative sources of energy like paraffin, candles and firewood.
Fostering renewable energy is one of the initiatives captured in the Sadc Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan Vision 2027 that was adopted by the Summit of Sadc Heads of State and Government held in Maputo in 2012.
The 15-year plan was to be implemented in three phases 2012-2016 (short-term), 2017-2022 (medium term) and 2022-2027 (long term), which if fully implemented would exceed the projected 96 000MW by 2027.
A mid-term review of the Renewable Energy Strategy and Action Plan (RESAP) between the Sadc secretariat and Finland indicate that the region has not covered much ground in pursuing the renewable energy route.
“There is widespread agreement among stakeholders that in order to develop and utilise abundant regional renewable energy resources, limited capacity at the Sadc level and the adverse impact this has on the implementation of regional energy programmes needs to be addressed going forward,” reads the report that was done through consultants, Camco.
“Barriers to RE (renewable energy) development in the Sadc region are due to numerous compounding factors such as inadequate legal and institutional frameworks to support RE, difficulties in accessing financing to support RE market development, capacity and information barriers and lack of political will to support long-term RE planning and integration into regional energy markets.
”In most cases, RE projects, particularly those involving more than one Sadc member states, often take long to get off the ground.”
It is, therefore, important that the Victoria Falls Summit comes up with practical resolutions on how to expedite energy crisis mitigation in the region if sustainable development is to be achieved.
Environmental friendliness must be the guiding principle on how the region wants to develop by making sure no harm is done to the environment, especially on fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.