‘Hydro holds key to sustainable energy’

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Lusaka – Africa must focus on up-scaling hydropower capacity to plug the continent’s electricity deficit, the Association of Power Utilities in Africa (APUA) has said.

APUA Director-General Dr Didier Tella this week told The Southern Times Business that as countries pursued renewable options, hydropower offered the best base load for sustainable expansion.

“Hydropower generation is the first renewable energy and should be the primary source of generation for Africa to secure a constant, clean, and cheap base load,” he said. “Without this base load, other renewable energy sources cannot secure the power systems which can cause grid instability.”

Dr Tella added: “Hydropower is clean, reliable, predictable, and cost-effective, and this is despite various natural calamities like climate change.”

Statistics from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the continent has installed capacity to generate around 170GW of electricity against requirements of 250GW.

IRENA says to reach generation of 250GW by 2030, Africa must double growth capacity to 7GW in the short-term, and quadruple it in the medium-term.

In a paper titled “Prospects for the African Power Sector”, IRENA says: “The magnitude of the investments required is such that governments will need public-private partnerships in order to scale up investment in generation capacity … Africa faces a unique opportunity as nearly two-thirds of the additional capacity needed in 2030 has yet to be built.”

In this context, Dr Tella told The Southern Times Business that, “African governments must avoid entering a new round of power sector reforms; there is - rather - a need to reinforce the social service capability of the utilities with good governance Mobilisation of domestic private funds and bond issuance are key to save the sector finance.”

The Southern African Development Community, on its part, has a power deficit in excess of 650MW, according to the bloc’s Deputy Executive Secretary for Regional Integration, Dr Thembinkosi Mhlongo.

“The SADC region is facing multiple challenges related to energy and water security, and lack of access and unaffordability which have crippling effects on our economies,” she said in an interview. 

Citing the 2018 SADC Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Status Report, access to electricity in most member states is below 50 percent, compared to 55 percent for rest of the Africa region south of the Sahara. 

“In terms of supply and demand, the region has installed generation capacity of 71,950MW. Therefore, when taking into account the current peak demand and generation capacity reserves margins, the region has a deficit capacity of more than 650MW,” Dr Mhlongo said.

Away from renewables, the SADC region is banking on gas development in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania to offset the electricity deficit.

“The developments in these subsectors also require guidance from ministers to ensure that these natural resources benefit the region effectively.  The regional trade through gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas will require development of resilient interconnected gas infrastructure,” said Dr Mhlongo.

Namibia’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Tom Alweendo, said several projects were in the pipeline to improve energy access, and these were being complemented by improving the capacity of the Southern African Power Pool.

“The notable efforts the region has done in the energy sector include the continued strengthening of the Southern African Power Pool, which has enabled a competitive electricity market in the region to flourish,” Minister Alweendo told The Southern Times Business.

Another lynchpin in the sustainable energy drive is the growing effectiveness of both the Regional Electricity Regulators Association and the Windhoek-headquartered SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (Sacreee).

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