Nam eyes electricity exports

By Business Reporter

NAMIBIA and Botswana are set to sign an agreement to develop solar projects of as much as 5 gigawatt through installations built across their mostly flat, sunny landscapes.

The neighbouring nations are working with US government initiative, Power Africa, to help structure the deal, Mines and Energy Minister Tom Alweendo said last week.

The electricity will mainly be exported across the region.

“The agreement to be signed will facilitate a full feasibility study that will determine the size and the location of the plants,” he said.

The ambitious plans signal a shift for both nations that import power from South Africa’s Eskom Holdings. The largest utility on the continent is struggling financially and operationally to meet demand. Adding 5 GW of renewable capacity would also further diversify the energy mix of the region, as Eskom mainly burns coal.

Namibia and Botswana have massive solar potential, but have yet to realise large-scale renewable projects. South Africa had one of the fastest-growing renewable energy programmes in the world, before government delays paralysed the effort.

“We should have already signed by now and there was a lot of movement on the agreement in March, before Covid-19 disrupted matters,” said Mmetla Masire, Botswana’s permanent secretary for mineral resources, green technology and energy security.

Power Africa, along with governments, the private sector and donors has helped bring more than 11 GW of generation capacity to financial close since 2013, according to its website. USAID, which coordinates the programme, did not immediately reply to emailed questions.

Negotiations on the finer details of the agreement including potential sites within both countries, cost sharing and other technical details will happen later, Masire said.

Plans for the 5 GW solar energy capacity to be developed over the next two decades for Namibia and Botswana, were first formulated and shared by the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Future Council on Energy and the US led Power Africa initiative, a year back in August 2019.

There will be a multi-phased solar procurement programme to help these countries get access to secure, reliable, inexpensive solar power at scale. Under phase 1, the idea would be to procure 300 MW to 500 MW capacity to cover future domestic demand only, phase 2 will see 500 MW to 1 GW capacity to be procured to cover regional demand within the South African Power Pool (SAPP) or through bilateral agreements. Under phase 3, between 1 GW to 3 GW capacity will be procured to meet demand in SAPP and Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), as per the plans shared last year.

All this capacity will be developed through competitive procurement process. These two nations were specifically chosen for a mega solar project of this scale owing to their solar irradiation potential, large open spaces and low population density, strong legal and regulatory environment, and low-cost, efficient and smart power-trading potential to meet high regional demand.

“Southern Africa may have as much as 24 000 MW of unmet demand for power by 2040. The market for electricity produced by the mega-solar projects in Botswana and Namibia includes 12 other countries in the region that could be connected via new and/or upgraded transmission infrastructure. As battery storage technology advances and costs of solar storage drop below $0.10 per kilowatt hour, solar power becomes an even more cost-competitive solution,” the WEF stated.