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Southern Africa in search of energy self-sustenance

July 26, 2006 - Joseph Ngwawi - South African Research and Documention Centre -

The very real threats of an impending power blackout and a shortage of fuel have jolted the Southern African Development Community (SADC) into action. The initiatives being pursued range from conventional infrastructure projects to innovations – all in the hope of ensuring southern Africa's long-term energy security.

With a regional power shortage originally expected to occur towards the end of 2007 setting in sooner than projected, almost all SADC countries have embarked on projects to boost their electricity generation. Southern Africa's power shortages were previously expected to hit the region in the last half of 2007, but events on the ground indicate that demand has outstripped supply at a pace not originally expected and has beat regional load forecasts. Some countries have already plunged into incessant electricity shortages.

The bulk of the infrastructure projects are bilateral arrangements between members. The latest is a hydro-power station being co-funded by the Namibian and Angolan power utilities, NamPower and ENE, respectively. Construction of the Baynes hydroelectricity power station will start soon following the signing of a bilateral agreement between the two governments. “We expect to generate 360 MW from the Baynes project to be built on the Kunene River in Angola,” explains NamPower managing director, Paulinus Shilamba. The project will be capable of generating electricity for a period of up to 12 months in the event that there is a drought in the region. Like several other SADC member states, Namibia is keen to attain self-sustenance on energy generation amid fears that the region's major electricity suppliers will run out of excess electricity in 2007. South Africa, which accounts for more than 75 percent of SADC's electricity generation capacity, has struggled to keep pace with domestic demand following the damage and subsequent closure of its nuclear power station in the Western Cape. Although the Koeberg nuclear power station is expected to return to full generation capacity by the end of July, South Africa still projects a shortfall, particularly in the Western Cape where demand has been growing fast. Electricity demand in the Western Cape peaks at 5,620 MW in winter, with the Koeberg nuclear station only able to produce 1,800 MW at full production.

Zambia, Tanzania (both members of SADC) and Kenya have also decided to link their power utilities in a move meant to ease electricity shortages for the three countries. The project, known as the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya Power Interconnection Project, is expected to assist Tanzania and Kenya access electricity from the Southern African Power Pool as well as reducing electricity costs for the three countries. The trade project will be developed in two phases at an estimated cost of US$660 million.

The first phase, to cost US$358 million, is scheduled to start in late 2007 and will be completed by 2009. It will build a transfer capacity of 200 MW of electricity. Phase two is to cost US$302 million for another transfer capacity of 400 MW upon completion in 2014.

Apart from transmission of power, the towers carrying the high voltage transmission conductors will also carry low voltage conductors for rural electrification along the transmission corridor. The three governments have secured grants worth US$800,000 for preparatory activities for the project from the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)'s Infrastructure Project Preparatory Fund.

Other projects planned for the region include three thermal power stations that Zimbabwe intends to construct with support from China. A Zimbabwean firm, Ele Resources, has entered into a US$1.3 billion deal with China Machine-Building International Corporation for a joint venture that will result in the development of three thermal power stations and a coal mine in the country's Zambezi valley. The first of the power projects will be ready for generation by the end of 2009, according to Evison Musangeya, chief executive of Dande Capital Holdings. Dande Capital is the parent company of Ele Resources. “We expect that by mid 2007, implementation of the thermal power plant projects will have started. We expect to commission the plant 18 to 24 months after starting the project,” said Musangeya.

South Africa is also considering intensifying its links with the Chinese in the field of nuclear technology. This comes in the wake of problems at its Koeberg nuclear power station near Cape Town that plunged most of South Africa and countries such as Namibia into darkness. A private company in Swaziland has also announced plans to construct one of southern Africa's largest thermal power stations. The power station, being proposed by Canham Mining International, will produce about 3,500 MW of electricity. The Swaziland Electricity Board is carrying out a feasibility study on the project before construction can start.

Besides these efforts on the power generation front, the SADC region has also been looking for ways to enhance the security of its oil supplies. Despite being home to Angola – sub-Saharan Africa's second largest oil producer after Nigeria – southern Africa has largely remained energy insecure due to the wild fluctuations in international fuel prices. To cushion themselves against the vagaries of a world oil market dominated by a few countries, several SADC member states have embarked on bio-diesel projects. Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe have been leading in efforts to develop bio-diesel capacity. Trials to determine the commercial viability of the Jatropha plant have been carried out in most of these countries. It has been noted that bio-diesel can be an economically viable substitute for fossil fuels and has potential for integration into the local economy.

( Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region. This article may be reproduced with credit to the author and publisher. SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985

Updated: 2016/06/30

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