28 July 2013, Harare – A recent announcement by an international firm that it has invested more than US$12 million in a solar power project in South Africa highlights the emergence of southern Africa as a new frontier for renewable energy sources.
Internet sources say the proposed 96 megawatt (MW) solar panel farm being built in the Northern Cape will be able to deliver enough clean power for the equivalent of 30,000 homes.
Situated near Kimberley, the Jasper solar power project will cover about 450 acres with more than 325,000 solar modules.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has an abundance of renewable energy sources, which, if fully harnessed, could boost power generation in the region.
According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the region 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.
For example, the overall hydropower potential in SADC countries is estimated at about 1,080 terawatt hours per year (TWh/year) but capacity being utilised at present is just under 31 TWh/year. A terawatt is equal to one million megawatts.
The SADC region is also hugely endowed with watercourses such as the Congo and Zambezi, with the Inga Dam situated on the Congo River having the potential to produce about 40,000 MW of electricity, according to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP).
SAPP is a regional body that coordinates the planning, generation and transmission of electricity on behalf of member state utilities in southern Africa.
With regard to geothermal energy, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility estimate that about 4,000MW of electricity is available along the Rift Valley in the United Republic of Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.
In this regard, the announcement in South Africa should not only be seen as a significant investment for SADC, but rather as an encouragement to the region and financiers to invest more in renewable energy sources.
Renewable energy sources are less polluting to the environment compared to fossil fuels such as coal.
Furthermore, fossil fuels will not last forever, hence the need for southern Africa and the rest of the world to prepare for the future and intensify efforts to harness its huge renewable energy resources.
SADC countries such as Botswana and Madagascar are successfully implementing similar projects that allow marginalized communities to tap solar energy.
Madagascar a few years ago embarked on a small-scale project to harness its solar energy potential and provide power to the majority of its rural population not connected to the national electricity grid.
Rural clinics and hospitals were equipped with solar technologies such as solar panels to produce their own electricity and in the process enabling them to store vital medicines.
Prior to this development, patients were expected to bring their own candles to the clinics during the night.
Botswana is building a 200MW solar plant to boost generation. The plant has the capacity to address most of the energy needs of the country as its national power consumption requirements stand at about 450MW.
Such initiatives should encourage other countries in the region and financiers to invest more in renewable energy sources.
Investment in the energy sector has been identified as a priority for southern Africa in the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan approved by the Heads of State and Government in August 2012.
The target for the energy sector is to address the four key areas of energy security, improving access to modern energy services, tapping the abundant energy resources in the continent and up-scaling financial investment whilst enhancing environmental sustainability.
*Southern African News Features