“Collaboration in the electricity business has benefits that range from sharing of reserves, taking advantages of Musarageneration mix, different peak periods that the continent has.”

Chief Market Analyst of the Southern African Power Pool, Eng Musara Beta, will be part of an African Utility Week panel discussion on “Evolving Power Pools: Enabling regional power exchanges among utilities by 2020”

1. The World Bank has declared 25 of the 54 African nations to be in an energy crisis. That’s nearly 50% – is the future for Africa really looking that bleak?

The future of Africa is not as bleak as may be portrayed in these statistics. Africa has abundant energy resources and what needs to be done is to develop these resources. Demand for energy is there, and there are a number of initiatives that power utilities together with governments are undertaking. For instance Kenya in 2013 started an initiative to develop 5,000 MW in five years. SAPP has added more than 12,000MW in the last ten years but plans to add around 26,000MW by 2019 which is nearly 50% of the current total installed capacity.

2. Is this a new trend that so many countries are in crisis, or has Africa always had these energy issues?

Most African countries and in particular in the SAPP had excess generation up to around 2007. The increase in metal prices and low cost of power in the world market led to increased mining activities and growth of energy intensive industries in Africa. This caught the continent unaware to the extent that generation capacity development lagged behind demand growth resulting in the energy crisis currently being experienced. Another point is that most of the generating stations, in say SAPP, are more than 40 years old hence require more maintenance costs which are not easy to meet with the non cost reflective tariffs that most utilities have in the region.

3. Why is it now, more now than ever, important for African countries to collaborate so that we can work together to solve the energy crisis?       

Collaboration in the electricity business has benefits that range from sharing of reserves, taking advantages of generation mix, different peak periods that the continent has. In terms of generation development, collaboration also brings about economies of scales. Some countries have resources that are more than their demand and these can be developed and utilised by other countries as long as there is regional interconnecting power lines.

4. What will be the outcome if collaboration does not happen?

Without collaboration, there may be a lot of inefficiencies in the development and operation of the electricity business. The cost of running the sector is likely to be higher under individual set ups when compared to collaborated setups.

5. Is there a single issue that all countries have in common which contributed to the energy crisis?

The major reason is the rise in demand that was not matched with the requisite increase in generation capacity. There are also a number of delays in concluding finance for the implementation of the requisite generation projects.

6. Tell us more about African solutions to African challenges in an energy context – why is it important that we find our own solutions opposed to copying non-African models?

One of key success factors for Africa to get out of the current energy challenge is recognition that we have the resources and the capability to develop these resources. Assistance can be obtained from other cooperating partners but the responsibility is solely with the Africans themselves. The challenge is to use our resources such as gold, oil and diamonds to develop our energy sector. Energy is the driver of all other economic activities hence without energy there is no economic development to talk about. All these are within our control hence require African solutions. The human capital has been developing over time and Africans need to be utilised to resolve African problems as they know them better than non-Africans.

7. Looking at gas-to-power: Will this be the game changer for Africa or are there other means to help solve the energy crisis?

Africa is endowed with energy resources and gas is one of the strategic resources to resolve Africa energy challenges. Renewable energy is also another game changer and a lot is happening in the SADC region including RSA. We also have coal and hydro resources though climate change is affecting our rainfall patterns.

8. Do you think African governments are doing enough to regain energy for the continent?

To an extent the governments are doing some work within their limited resources. Remember governments have other pressing needs such as social needs that they also have to satisfy. Looking at the projects currently happening in say Angola, DRC, RSA, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, most of these projects are happening as a result of government support. There is also a realisation from governments to bring in private sector through electricity reforms and more.

9. Investing in nuclear: is this an expensive option for Africa?

There are pros and cons to all energy resources including nuclear. There is no one size fits all. Nuclear may be expensive and difficult to develop but is cheaper to run. There are also political and environmental pressures to deal with but once these are addressed, nuclear is one of the important energy resources used worldwide.

10. If you would address African heads of state: what would your most important message be to them?

Energy is important for economic activity of any country and any government that does not prioritise energy development is in fact compromising its economic development.

11. Addressing business leaders: what would your advice be?

Resolving energy issues require everyone’s efforts, including the business community. It is not a government problem alone but requires everyone’s input. There is no business that can flourish without energy.

12. What role can events such as African Utility Week play in promoting collaboration?

Africa Utility Week is a very important forum in the energy sector as it brings together energy experts from the continent and the world at large. Various topics on key projects, research work and renewable energy are discussed during this forum. The forum helps to promote collaboration through sharing of experiences and information on energy matters.

Interview with Engineer Beta by Black Business Quarterly