The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is witnessing a growing appetite for renewable energy with most countries in the region making massive investments in solar energy as an alternative source of power.
Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and Botswana are constructing solar power plants that have the capacity to light up cities and households and in turn ease pressure on the traditional sources of power that supply the national electricity grids of the respective countries.
Most countries in the region rely on hydro and thermal power for domestic and industrial use.
Just like its neighbours, Zimbabwe has in recent years been making huge investments in grassroots solar energy projects for domestic use and also for powering agriculture.
Just last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa toured the Nyangani non-renewable energy power project in Mutoko which has the capacity to contribute 10MW into the national energy grid.
Zimbabwe has a green energy plan to promote the use of renewable energy with the initial aim of making up to a 600MW shortfall in electricity production.
According to the Ministry of Energy and Power Development’s final draft policy, Zimbabwe wants to generate at least 1 000 MW of power or 16% of its total projected generation through solar and other renewable energy systems by 2025.
The country’s thermal and hydro electricity supply is not enough to meet the country’s electricity demand and the Ministry of Energy aims to meet the shortage with solar generated electricity.
Currently, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) generates 1 500MW against a demand of about 2 200MW.
The Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) states that it has set aside US$570 million for solar energy generation at Gwanda, Insukamini and Munyati power stations.
Energy and Power Development permanent secretary Patrick Mbirimi said Government had put in place a programme of action and timelines to increase renewable energy investments.
“You might be aware that Zimbabwe has made a commitment to cut carbon emissions by 33 percent by 2030. This is the reason why we need to expedite renewable energy projects so as to meet that target,” Mbirimi.
He said the aim of his ministry was to attain at least 1 000MW renewable energy by 2025, excluding large hydro projects in Kariba.
At the moment, independent power producers are generating about 28MW of renewable energy in the Eastern Highlands. Zimbabwe has a shortfall of 300MW and is having to resort to imports from the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique.
In an attempt to meet the demands of electricity as well as adopting cheaper and sustainable natural energy sources, Namibia has also embarked on solar energy projects.
Speaking at the recent inauguration of the Aloe Investment 5MW solar plant, Namibia Minister of Mines and Energy Tom Alweendo said the Aloe Investment Solar Power Plant was part of the renewable energy drive aimed at reducing electricity imports costs in the country.
“This power plant is one of the 14 renewable energy projects under Interim Energy Feed-in Tariff (REIF) Programme, which was initiated by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the Electricity Control Board and NamPower in 2015 with the intention to reduce electricity imports and attract private investment in the development of renewable energy resources in Namibia,” Alweendo said.
The Energy Minister said Namibia has nine of the 14 REFIT solar power projects connected to the national grid.
He said the total amount of clean energy which was fed by nine of the 14 projects into the grid was about 93 gigawatts (GW) in 2017.
Alweendo urged stakeholders in the private sector to invest in solar energy projects which are part of Namibia’s Energy Action plan to increase the local electricity generation capacity from 400 to 600 megawatts and rural electrification from 34% and 50% by 2020.
South Africa is also making tremendous strides in resorting to clean renewable energy after recently signing 27 Renewable Energy Independent Power Purchase Agreements signifying the country’s efforts to produce the environmentally friendly and cheaper form of energy.
South Africa Energy Minister Jeff Radebe is on record saying renewable energy is a cheaper and more sustainable form of energy and their adoption reduces the cost of electricity for households and businesses in the long run.
Zambia is in the process of constructing its largest solar power plant under the Scaling Solar initiative funded by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group.
The facility is a 47.5 MW solar energy plant aimed at helping the country to cope with electricity shortages afflicting the country’s hydroelectric power plants.
Zambia is heavily depended on hydroelectric power and of late the country has been receiving lower than expected rainfall for several years and this has immensely affected the country’s economic growth due to energy shortages.
The Scaling Solar initiative has also partnered with Ethiopia, Madagascar and Senegal in developing solar power plants and encourages the use of the cleaner and cheaper form of energy.
Earlier this year, the Botswana government invited renewable energy investors to invest in the country’s renewable energy projects following the implementation of a proposed 100MW solar project.
The project is believed to have received 166 responses since earlier this year.
Since the adoption of the 2016 Regional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Strategy and Action Plan, the SADC region has made huge strides in harnessing cleaner and alternative energy sources for economic development.
Nine of the 12 mainland SADC member states are connected to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) network, which makes it possible to trade power.
As part of the SADC Agenda on Regional Cooperation and Integration, the SADC Programme on Energy plans to connect the three remaining member states of Angola, Malawi and Tanzania to SAPP network by the year 2022 so that through bilateral agreements and through SAPP electricity market platform is available to all members.