Efforts to achieve energy security in southern Africa appear to be achieving results as the region continues on a positive trajectory that has seen it enjoying surplus electricity generation since the beginning of the year.
According to statistics from the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), mainland Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states had installed capacity of 59 539 Megawatts (MW) and operating capacity of 54 397 MW as of the end of April 2017 against peak demand of around 53 478 MW.
This resulted in excess generation capacity of 919MW, a situation that has prevailed since the beginning of the year. Installed capacity in oceanic member states was 782MW for Mauritius, 246MW (Madagascar) and 106MW for Seychelles.
Total installed capacity for all SADC member states is more than 60 670 MW. The excess is partly as a result of a slowdown in the South African economy but also due to the impact of a coordinated approach in implementation of the SADC energy programme. South Africa's economy has been contracting in the past year due to a fall in mining and manufacturing production.
The surplus generation capacity comes five years ahead of the initial SAPP target of attaining electricity self-sufficiency by 2022 when the power pool hoped that demand for power would match surplus.
The SAPP figures, which were released during a meeting of ministers responsible for energy in the SADC region, showed that more new generation capacity was added to the power pool in 2016 than was previously anticipated.
The region exceeded the target of 3 757MW for the year and commissioned 4 180MW from new power projects and the rehabilitation of old power plants. Mainland member states are planning to commission more than 7 000MW of new generation capacity in 2017, a development that is expected to further strengthen the region's energy security.
The increased generation capacity in Angola, Malawi and United Republic of Tanzania is only available domestically as the three countries are yet to be interconnected to the rest of the SAPP grid.
That means the 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 inter-connector projects. These include the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya inter-connector 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 inter- connector is expected to be ready by the end of 2019, according to acting SAPP Coordination Centre Manager Alison Chikova.
Other inter-connector 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 percent 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 that result in reduced carbon emission that increase climate warming and cause environmental damage.
In addition to being affordable, secure and reliable, renewable energy such as hydro, solar and wind will not be depleted and are also in abundance in the SADC region.
The long-term target set by SADC is to achieve a renewable energy mix in the regional grid of at least 32 percent by 2020 and 35 percent by 2030.
Swaziland Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini said robust energy -- and water -- infrastructure are crucial to the success of efforts by SADC to achieve rapid industrial development.
Officially opening a joint meeting of ministers responsible for energy and water in SADC, Dlamini said there is need for substantial investment in energy and water infrastructure to ensure rapid and inclusive industrialisation in the region.
"We know that faster industrialisation is the key to more rapid economic growth and greater prosperity in a sustainable manner and we are aware that without a sustainable development of energy and water infrastructure our development plans cannot be achieved," he said.
SADC has since 2014 set its sight on transforming the region's economies from trade in unprocessed natural resources to one where there is substantial value addition of raw materials and there is technology drive production capacity.
The ministers are reviewing the current status of SADC's energy and water programmes with a view to developing strategies to quicken the pace of implementation of projects.