Southern Africa is experiencing surplus electricity generation capacity for the first time in a decade, thanks to the success of regional cooperation in energy planning during the past few years.
Figures released by the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) show that the 12-member pool is sitting on surplus peak period generation capacity of 919 megawatts (MW).
“The excess is much higher if we look at off-peak periods,” acting SAPP Coordination Centre Manager, Alison Chikova, told the SADC Energy Thematic Group (ETG) during its biannual meeting in Gaborone on Monday 27 March.
Chikova said the excess was partly because of the slowdown in the South African economy but also due to the impact of a coordinated approach in implementation of the SADC energy programme.
Chikova said South Africa has excess capacity of 5,797MW, largely due to the economic slowdown and the commissioning of 2,550MW of additional generation capacity from six new projects in 2016.
The six projects include the 999MW Ingula power station owned by state enterprise Eskom as well as five others involving power generation through wind, gas and solar photovoltaic technologies that were commissioned by Independent Power Producers.
Angola had largest number of projects commissioned in 2016, contributing 780MW or about one fifth of the 4,180MW new capacity commissioned last year.
Other significant contributions were from Zambia and Zimbabwe where new Indepent Power Projects projects added 300MW and 200MW respectively.
Chikova revealed that SAPP member countries plan to commission more than 30,000MW of new generation capacity between 2017 and 2022, about half of which would come from South Africa.
However, the increased generation capacity in Angola, Malawi and Tanzania is only available domestically as the three countries are yet to be interconnected to the rest of the SAPP grid.
New generation capacity installed in any of the three non-participating countries is not accessible to the nine other members of SAPP – Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
There are plans to tap into the installed capacity of these three SAPP members through the implementation of several interconnector projects.
These include the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya interconnector project that is expected to connect the SAPP grid to the one operated by the Eastern Africa Power Pool – in addition to linking the Tanzanian power network to other SAPP member countries.
The Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya interconnector is expected to be ready by the end of 2019, according to Chikova.
Other interconnector projects are expected between Mozambique and Malawi as well as between Namibian and Angola. The target dates for commissioning these are in 2020.
Gas is increasingly becoming a major source of electricity in the region, accounting for 995MW or almost 24% of all power generated in 2016 – from two projects in Mozambique and one each in South Africa and Tanzania.
Unlike in the past where coal-fired plants contributed the largest share of new generation capacity, 2016 saw only one new coal project in Zambia coming on board with a capacity of 300MW.
The move towards renewable energy follows a resolution made in 2012 by southern African countries to increase the uptake of cleaner and alternative energy sources. The long-term target set by SADC is to achieve a renewable energy mix in the regional grid of at least 32% by 2020 and 35% by 2030.
According to the African Development Bank, southern African alone has the potential to become a “gold mine” for renewable energy due to the abundant solar and wind resources that are now hugely sought after by international investors in their quest for clean energy.