As concerns about sustainable energy and the impact of fossil fuels rise, renewable energy has become an important topic, both within the SADC region and around the world. Technologies such as hydropower, biofuels, and wind and solar energy are significant for Southern Africa as it strives to develop its regional infrastructure, a process predicated on energy consumption.
Fortunately, SADC has extensive opportunities in the renewable energy sector due to its abundant natural resources. Recognising that renewable energy would increase in importance as the region develops, SADC has made provisions for it in its 1996 Protocol on Energy.
The Protocol on Energy
The Protocol on Energy acts as the chief regulatory framework of SADC for energy development in the region. Article 3 of the Protocol on Energy notes the importance of renewable energy, advising Member States to cooperate on development and usage of new and renewable energy sources in the region. More in-depth, Annex 1 of the Protocol on Energy provides guidelines for promoting renewable energy production and usage, as follows:
- The SADC Energy Commission shall create financing mechanisms suitable for developing the renewable energy sector
- Member States shall consider implementing tax regimes that promote development of renewable energy
- Member States shall strive to create an environment that enables the private sector to assist in renewable energy development
- The Energy Commission shall provide technical assistance to governments and non-governmental organisations involved with renewable energy
- Member States shall include cost-effective renewable energy applications in their public investment programmes
Distribution of energy infrastructure in SADC, including hydropower facilities
The Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan
As energy is a chief component of infrastructure development, the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan released in 2012 outlines SADC’s intentions for energy over the next 25 years, which involves a strong renewable energy component.
The Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan and its Energy Sector Plan advises that SADC Member States capitalise on the renewable energy opportunities available in Southern Africa, investing in infrastructure that allows the sector to compete with already-established fossil fuels.
Renewable energy is already productive in the region. While coal-generated electricity still constitutes the majority of energy production, both traditional biomass and hydropower also contribute substantially to the region’s power grid, the Southern African Power Pool. These renewable sources will also likely increase in productivity in the future as SADC intends to increase the share of renewable energy in the grid to 21% by 2017, 33% by 2022, and 37% by 2027, in pursuit of the goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Moving toward these goals, further hydropower development is already underway. The Energy Sector Plan addressed the previous lack of clearly defined renewable energy projects. SADC has identified four hydropower plants as priority areas in meeting these renewable energy targets: the Mpanda-Nkuwa in Mozambique, the Inga III in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Batoka Gorge project between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase II in Lesotho. The projects, along with smaller hydropower developments and other forms, are anticipated to meet the region’s renewable energy requirements and to offer a sustainable alternative to the fossil fuel electricity generated in the region.
Challenges to Renewable Energy
While SADC is committed to renewable energy and aims to meet its renewable energy objectives, a number of challenges still remain:
- Renewable energy entails high upfront costs, especially for technology
- Most renewable energy equipment is imported, with no local options for manufacturing
- There may not be capacity to connect large-scale energy projects to the grid
- Much renewable energy equipment is of poor quality and the region lacks appropriate testing facilities to ensure effectiveness
- Research, development, and production of renewable energy infrastructure occur outside the region and there are no localisation strategies in place
- Renewable energy depends heavily on donor subsidies at present
- There are no guidelines for assessing the impacts and benefits of renewable energy incentives, such as feed-in tariffs
- Data on possible deforestation caused by biomass development is lacking, inhibiting progress on regulation and decision-making.
Implementation and Regulation
Another challenge for SADC is the lack of “soft” infrastructure in the form of policies, strategies, and institutions available to ensure that the renewable energy projects identified in the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan are implemented.
While the Protocol on Energy and the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan address SADC’s broad energy objectives, they make little mention of renewable energy aside from hydropower. Within the SADC region, only Mauritius and South Africa have developed comprehensive strategies and action plans for renewable energy; at present, there is no region-wide regulatory framework that specifically addresses renewable energy.
In conjunction with Member States, the Southern African Power Pool, and the Regional Electricity Regulators Association, SADC intends to harmonise cross-border policies and regulations for renewable energy in the region in the coming years, establishing a coherent framework that will foster development of this important sector.
- Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan
- Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan: Energy Sector Plan
- World Bank: The SADC's Infrastructure: A Regional Perspective
- Protocol on Energy
- SADC Regional Energy Access Strategy and Action Plan