Southern African News Features                                           SANF 09 No 15, July 2009
Transmission grids, joint power stations key to regional development
by Kizito Sikuka

Two main solutions to southern Africa’s crippling energy situation emerged from the Power Sector Investors Roundtable held in Livingstone, Zambia, on 15 to 17 July 2009.

These are the need to build more transmission interconnections across member state borders as well as encourage joint power generation projects.

More transmission lines through the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) would enable member states to benefit from new generation capacity installed in other regional countries.

Currently, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is not fully integrated as Angola, Malawi and Tanzania are not connected to the regional power pool.

This, therefore, means that any new generation capacity installed in any of the three countries is not realised outside the nine other SAPP members namely Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Chairperson of the SADC Committee of Ministers responsible for Energy, Dipuo Peters said at the roundtable in Livingstone that such shortcomings where national utilities work in isolation is not positive as the challenges that the region is facing are rather daunting and require a much more coordinated approach.

She urged SAPP to continue playing its part towards finalizing the necessary harmonization of technical standards and protocols that would facilitate easier power flow among member states.

"In order for us all to benefit, we need to ensure the availability of transmission interconnections among member countries," said Peters, who is also the South African Energy Minister.

In the period 2007-08, SAPP commissioned about 3,400MW of generation capacity in Angola but due to lack of interconnection, the power is not accessible by any other SADC member state despite the fact that a number of countries in the region are experiencing serious energy shortages.

Setting up new interconnections in the region will create new corridors that can support industrial development and improve energy security in other parts of the region without necessarily being stifled by overloads on the existing transmission lines.

New transmission lines such as the Zimbabwe-Zambia-Botswana-Namibia (ZIZABONA) transmission project and the Zambia-Namibia power line are examples of new projects that require financial support and, if implemented, can reduce congestion on the central corridor.

Potential investors present at the Livingstone roundtable said joint power generation projects hold the key to regional growth, adding that many institutions are ready to invest in such projects in southern Africa.

They argued that some of the projects promoted by individual countries are too small to attract investment hence by expanding market size, regional projects could facilitate the mobilisation of required funds while at the same time cross-border projects have the advantage of a positive economic effect on the region.

Christine Schmidt, Principal Project Manager of the German Development Bank (kFW), said the bank is willing to fund any power generation projects on green and renewable energy such as hydroelectric power station construction to help the region meet its electricity needs.

Schmidt said these projects include the corridors to carry electricity from Zambia to Tanzania and Kenya, from Cahora Bassa to South Africa along the Mozambican Backbone Corridor, and the ZIZABONA Corridor.

Stakeholders at the meeting also urged southern African countries to properly package their proposals to ensure that they entice investors.

Lyson Muwila, Principal Investment Officer of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), noted that while the SADC region had viable energy projects, a number of countries were, however, failing to properly present them resulting in their failure to secure investment.

Lack of investment in the energy sector as well as the fast expanding economies in the region and low electricity tariffs are some of the main factors that have contributed towards the current power deficit in southern Africa.

However, the region is endowed with various energy resources such as solar, wind, hydro and gas, which if harnessed could help SADC address its power shortages.

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