Southern African News Features                                           SANF 10 No 18, April 2010
SADC ministers to review regional energy situation
By Kizito Sikuka

Southern African Energy Ministers are meeting this week to review the power situation in the region in an effort to ensure that supply and demand are evenly matched.

The annual ministers’ meeting is scheduled for 29 April in Luanda, Angola.

Southern African Development Community (SADC) Senior Energy Officials meet prior to the ministers meeting. According to a draft agenda, discussion is expected to focus on the status of implementation of key decisions made at the last meeting in 2009.

These include plans to adopt cost-reflective tariffs in the region as well as other measures to improve the business environment for investors.

While significant progress has been made by the Regional Electricity Regulators Association of Southern Africa (RERA) in coming up with scenarios to make tariffs more viable, most SADC countries are yet to fully adopt the recommendations as various issues still have to be taken into consideration, including affordability of energy to less privileged citizens.

The region also continues to lag behind in implementing a number of its energy generation and transmission projects as investors shun some of the projects due to various reasons such as low incentives and long tender procedures.

The slow off-take of identified projects has had a negative impact on the economies of most Member States and the situation could worsen if southern Africa fails to address the problem as a matter of urgency.

A majority of SADC countries are experiencing energy shortages, which were predicted as early as 1999 yet little has been done over the years by way of new investment in major power generation projects to arrest the problem.

The current energy shortages are despite the enormous generation potential that exist in the region ranging from renewables such as hydro, wind, gas to solar power.

To guide Member States on access issues, a draft SADC Energy Access Strategy and Plan of Action is expected to be tabled for approval. Access to modern energy sources is particularly important given that as many as 80 percent of the region’s population still relies on biomass such as woodfuel and farm residue for cooking and heating.

The ministers are also expected to discuss a draft SADC Regional Renewable Energy Strategy, which seeks to promote the uptake of clean energy and ensure that southern Africa takes advantage of the numerous renewable energy opportunities that exist in the region.

The strategy would be supported by other clean energy programmes that include the SADC Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Programme and the Biomass Energy Conservation (ProBEC) programme, which are also set to be discussed at the meeting.

Clean energy sources that result in less carbon emissions, are fast emerging as the most lucrative sources of “carbon financing” in the world.

Based on an analysis by SADC, a total of 19,000 Megawatts (MW) worth of generation projects could be commissioned under the CDM in the region.

Member States through the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) have already identified a number of such projects for commissioning over the next few years.

These include the Mphanda Nkuwa hydro power project in Mozambique, Itezhi Tezhi hydro power project in Zambia and the Kudu gas power project in Namibia.

Another major issue for discussion by the ministers is the review and development of the Energy Sector governing instruments such as the SADC Energy Protocol, SADC Energy Policy and the SADC Energy Activity Plan.

Stakeholders have called for a re-evaluation of these instruments, particularly the SADC Activity Plan, which they say is now outdated.

The Activity Plan is a critical document for SADC and its International Cooperating Partners (ICPs) as it spells out the key activities or priorities for implementation in the short-to-medium term.

The current Activity Plan is almost 10 years old and is guided by other key documents such as the Protocol on Energy, which is also outdated and overtaken by new developments such as climate change as well as the renewed thrust towards energy access, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

SAPP, a 12-member regional body that coordinates the planning, generation, transmission and marketing of electricity on behalf of Member State utilities in SADC, is expected to give a progress report on the implementation of the Power Sector Development Roadmap adopted a few years ago.

The report would include an update of key resolutions made at recent investors’ conferences such as the SADC Power Sector Investors Roundtable that was held in Livingstone, Zambia in 2009 and the SADC Power Sector Infrastructure Development Conference in Frankfurt, Germany in March 2010.

SAPP would also give an update of on-going generation and transmission projects as well as planned projects such as the Zimbabwe-Zambia-Botswana-Namibia (ZIZABONA) transmission line linking the four countries.

Other projects include the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya transmission line and the Mozambique Backbone project.

These projects have the capacity to aid access to more power through the regional grid, allowing the transfer of electricity between and among SADC Member States.

The power utilities in mainland SADC, with the exception of Angola, Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania, are interconnected through SAPP, allowing them to sell electricity to one another through a competitive market.

According to SAPP, some power generation projects are expected to be commissioned this year, adding about 800 MW of electricity to the regional grid.

A total of 70 MW has already been installed in Botswana while the remaining 730 MW that would be commissioned in Angola, South Africa and Zambia is expected to be available by December 2010.

In 2011, SAPP expects to add about 1,750 MW in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania.

SADC Energy Ministers are also expected to discuss the termination of the Western Power Corridor Project (Westcor), whose main aim was to develop the Inga III power project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The termination of the project was announced at the SADC Council of Ministers in February.

The ministers have however already agreed on the development of a new project with a mandate to exploit alternative schemes.

Other major issues expected to dominate the meeting include an update of the Energy Thematic Group of ICPs coordination process that is currently led by the government of Norway.

The meeting is also expected to agree on energy sector priorities for the year 2010-2011.

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