Energy is vital to development in Southern Africa. Beyond its use in daily life, fuel and electricity catalyse infrastructure projects that drive both Regional Integration and economic growth. As the SADC region industrialises on its path to improved human development, energy production and distribution will only increase in importance.

Recognising the fundamental role of energy in accomplishing its goals, SADC passed the Protocol on Energy in 1996, which provides a framework for cooperation on energy policy among SADC Member States.

The Protocol on Energy

The Protocol on Energy acknowledges the importance of energy in pursuit of the vision of SADC of economic well being and poverty eradication in Southern Africa. In order to best achieve these ends, the Protocol on Energy invites Member States to cooperate on energy development, harmonising policies, strategies, and procedures throughout the region. It also advises that these policies ensure the security, reliability, and sustainability of the energy supply, with Member States cooperating on research and development of low-cost energy sources applicable to Southern Africa. The 41st Summit of Heads of State and Government in August 2021 held in Lilongwe, Malawi considered recommendations by Council of Ministers and thereafter adopted the Agreement Amending the SADC Protocol on Energy; adopted the Amendment to Annex 1 to the SADC Protocol on Energy; and urged Member States that are still not Parties to Protocols that have entered into force to accede to those Protocols. The rationale for amending the Protocol on Energy of 1996 among other issues is based on eliminating inconsistencies, correcting inadequacies, emerging institutional reforms and promoting private sector participation in infrastructure development.

Strategic Plans and Current Progress

Since the adoption of the Protocol on Energy, SADC has enacted several strategic plans for energy development in the region: the SADC Energy Cooperation Policy and Strategy in 1996, the SADC Energy Action Plan in 1997,  the SADC Energy Activity Plan in 2000, and the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan and its Energy Sector Plan in 2012. Other strategies include the Regional Energy Access Strategy and Action Plan 2020 to 2030, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Strategy and Action Plan 2016 to 2030, the SADC Industrial Energy Efficiency Programme and the development of the Regional Gas Master Plan. These development strategies set out tangible objectives for SADC and its Member States for infrastructure development in energy and its subsectors of woodfuel, petroleum and natural gas, electricity, goal, renewable energy, and energy efficiency and conservation.

Although implementation of these strategies has been slow, the region has made significant strides, particularly in electricity. At present, nine Member States of SADC have merged their electricity grids into the Southern African Power Pool, reducing costs and creating a competitive common market for electricity in the region. Similarly, SADC has established the Regional Electricity Regulatory Association, which has helped in harmonising the region’s regulatory policies on energy and its subsectors. While SADC is enacting a number of initiatives to address these issues, it has identified three chief points of focus, as follows:

  • Electricity Generation – Southern Africa has ample resources for electricity generation, though occasionally lacks the capacity for development.
  • Hydropower and Renewable Energy – Renewable energy has grown in importance for both regional and global energy markets.
  • Regional Transmission Interconnectors - implementation of priority interconnector projects that are aimed to connected Angola, Malawi and Tanzania to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) grid.

Key Challenges in the Energy Sector

The region still faces significant challenges in energy development and usage. The Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan Assessment Report of 2019 highlights the following issues:

  • Only 32% of rural areas in the Region have access to electricity;
  • SADC falls behind in Africa regarding access to electricity. Approximately 50% of the region’s residents have access which is equivalent to the weighted average for Sub-Saharan Africa while. North Africa countries have reached 100% access to electricity;
  • An electricity shortage has strained the region since 2007. Although this shortage was expected to be corrected by 2019, projects intended to address the shortage lag behind deadline due to lack of funding;
  • Slow migration to cost reflective tariffs, inadequate project preparation, issues with Power

Purchase Agreements, and absent regulatory frameworks stunt investment and financing in the energy sector;

  • Coal supplies 62% of power generation in Southern Africa, but is considered a contributing factor to global warming; 
  • Weak infrastructure and foreign commitments inhibit use of the region’s abundant petroleum and natural gas resources; and
  • Pricing and infrastructure hurdles such as grid connections, manufacturing, and quality testing impede development of the region’s renewable energy potential.