SADC agrees on coordinated response to water and energy challenges

by Egline Tauya
Water and energy are essential to human and economic development, which are hampered in southern Africa due to the current shortages.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has agreed on a way forward to address these challenges and implement measures leading to sustainable development.

The measures are contained in an outcome statement released by a SADC Ministerial Workshop on Water and Energy held on 20 June in Gaborone, Botswana.

SADC ministers responsible for water and energy agreed to forge closer regional collaboration in promoting water and energy security, rather than addressing solutions mainly at national level.

“Some of the challenges which are contributing to energy insecurity in the region are the focus on national self-sufficiency by Member States, which leads to stretching the little resources and yields minimum generation capacities,” reads part of the statement.

“On a similar note, Riparian States sharing a river basin are still inward-looking and aiming at building national dams to meet their national needs, which tend to be very expensive and create some competition within the river basin.”

To address these challenges and ensure a “water and energy-secure region, joint investment in strategic water and energy projects is a must. For example, the Grand Inga hydropower project in the Congo basin would immediately contribute towards the regional energy supply if implemented.”

According to the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP), the Inga Dam has the potential to produce about 40,000 Megawatts (MW) of electricity – enough to meet the needs of most of the SADC region.

“Similarly, for the water sector, the Secretariat should, as a matter of urgency, initiate a study on transferring water from the water-rich basins to the water-stressed parts of the region expeditiously, through inter/intra basin transfers,” said the document.

One success story of transferring water from water-rich basins to water-scarce parts is the Kunene Water Supply Project, which provides water to dry areas in northern Namibia and southern Angola.

Another remedy to the water and energy challenge is the strengthening of inter-sectoral coordination. The management of water development in the region should not undermine energy supply or vice versa, because action in one area impacts on the other.

Water is needed in the generation of hydropower and cooling of thermal power stations, for example, as well as in irrigation for food production. Similarly, energy is required in pumping water to where it is needed.

The ministers noted the need to intensify Demand Side Management (DSM) strategies that allow the region to enjoy surplus water and power, as well as to save such resources.

Energy efficiency measures include the use of remote electric geyser switches, water sensor dispatching equipment and time-controlled shower units for institutions, as well as banning the use of incandescent light bulbs, electric geysers, boilers and other inefficient water heating and lighting equipment.

Switching from traditional light bulbs to compact florescent lamps and commercial lighting, as well as the uptake of solar water heaters have been effective in most SADC countries as they have significantly reduced energy use. The use of compact florescent lamps can save up to 80 percent of the electricity consumption compared to incandescent bulbs.

Solar water heaters are another energy conservation device. Research shows that use of solar water heaters could reduce household electricity bills by 40 percent or more.

Implementation of these DSM programmes in southern Africa has resulted in savings of about 4,561MW of electricity between 2009 and 2015.

It is envisaged that the SADC region will save more than 6,000MW by 2018 if such initiatives are implemented according to plan.

The water sector has a similar programme that seeks to promote water demand management as a means to ensuring efficient and sustainable water resource utilization.

The programmes include use of smart water meters, rainwater harvesting, and use of sprinklers as opposed to flood irrigation. For example, the use of harvested rainwater for domestic and industrial purposes would reduce water and energy consumption during the rainfall months.

The ministers called on SADC Member States “to promote and invest in alternative energy sources for power generation such as hydro, solar and wind power, including coal and gas, using appropriate and efficient technologies, thereby promoting optimal energy mix.”

“On the water side, Member States should invest more in rainwater harvesting, recycling, and desalination depending on the circumstance and should promote conjunctive use of groundwater and surface water.”

There is need for the region to accelerate the implementation of priority energy and water infrastructure projects in the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP).

The RIDMP Energy Sector Plan has identified 73 power projects that will increase generation capacity from the current 56,000 MW and ensure that the projected demand of 96,000MW is surpassed by 2027.

The Water Sector Plan contains a total of 34 infrastructure projects aimed at improving access to water in the region.

Another critical measure is for all SADC Member States to be fully connected to the regional power grid so that countries can share surplus power across borders.

Most mainland SADC countries are interconnected through the SAPP regional grid — with the exception of Angola, Malawi and the United Republic of Tanzania. Full regional connectivity would strengthen the sharing of energy resources.

Member States were encouraged to exploit renewable energy sources, which are abundant in the region. However, for this to happen, there is need for innovation in the mobilisation of financial resources.

“Member States should provide incentives that promote the renewable energy investments which may lower capital expenditure,” the outcome statement said, adding that there is need to “explore other options such as competitive bidding to facilitate development of renewable energy projects.”

The outcome statement will be tabled for consideration at the forthcoming SADC Council of Ministers and Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government in Swaziland in late August.

The SADC Ministerial Workshop with the theme, “Accelerating Energy Delivery and Access to Water Resources in the SADC Region – A Collective Approach,” is one of three regional meetings convened by the SADC chairperson, President Seretse Khama Ian Khama.

The meetings are aimed at finding innovative ways of managing the competing environmental, social and economic dimensions of development in southern Africa. A similar meeting on food security and poverty eradication was convened in May, while another one on illegal trade in wildlife is scheduled for July.

Various stakeholders, including energy and water ministers, representatives of national energy and water regulators and utilities, SADC energy and water thematic group members and implementing partners, International Cooperating Partners, research institutions and independent power producers participated in the meeting.