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Energy trade conveys powerful message

Grania Rubomboras presented a case study on the status of the Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya (ZTK) power interconnector last month at the 18th African Utility Week conference.

Sub-Saharan Africa is burdened with a complex and persistent electricity gap that is difficult to bridge in the medium- to long-term due to population growth, states Grania Rubomboras, Programme Officer: Power Projects, Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) and African Utility Week Advisory Board member.

This article originally appeared in Issue 2 2018 of our print magazine. The digital version of the full magazine can be read online or downloaded free of charge.

Speaking with ESI Africa ahead of the 2018 conference, the NBI programme officer was quick to point out that cognisance has been made of the current low access levels coupled with increasing population growth, and that “development agendas have been formulated to curb the effect”.

These agendas, namely the UN Agenda 2030, African Union/PIDA 2063, and African Development Bank High 5, have specific targets that need to be realised. However, the solution is to ensure that these agendas build national and regional capacity to prepare bankable projects and then to implement them.

“We need to pursue an approach that fosters cooperation between the four Power Pools through increased regional operationalisation,” explains Rubomboras, adding that the regional interconnections will then generate economies of scale in utilising shared resources, which will stimulate electricity market development and trade.

At the centre of the development agendas for mitigation against the effects of climate change, should be the region’s vulnerability in this regard due to the continent’s heavy reliance on hydropower resources. “We need to determine how to best deal with droughts and reduced agricultural yields, which puts the water-energy-food nexus at the forefront of discussions,” highlights Rubomboras.

Pooling resources

According to Rubomboras, the generation market has not really changed much in the past year as most projects are still under implementation – such as the Grand Reconnaissance Dam (Ethiopia), and the Karuma and Isimba hydropower plants (Uganda), as well as various gas plants in Kenya and geothermal plants in Tanzania. “Once the hydropower projects and transmission lines become operational, there will be a huge shift in the market and energy trading,” she enthused.

“Internally, each country has a lot to do in expanding its electricity network and sub-regional planning is done as well.” This is evidenced in the strong link between the Eastern Africa Power Pool and the Southern African Power Pool rising out of the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya interconnection (commonly known as the ZTK). Still, in the case of the East Africa region, generation master planning is expected to be done by the Eastern Africa Power Pool.

Considerable work lies ahead for the African power sector. With increased preparation of bankable projects that attract funding, the sector will grow. In turn, the power exchanges will grow from bilateral and cross-border trade to increased regional trading and power pooling. “However, this market development needs to be nurtured; hence the importance of operationalising all the power pools.” She suggests that benefits can be found in cross-border exchange and commercial trade in energy.

“The regional approach creates a platform for peace building between countries. It brings about better planning when orchestrated between two or three countries.” This is seen where some projects that have been on the table for years are now entering into implementation (such as the Rusumo Hydropower project) since taking a regional approach.

Altogether, grid connection is good for the region: “Grid interconnection and the creation of the electricity market will facilitate the evacuation of power from various generation sources for national as well as export purposes.”

Funding and more

According to Rubomboras, to meet the funding gap more needs to be done to encourage the private sector to provide sustainable solutions to meet demand. “Both solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CPS) are being implemented but other renewable energy options should be pursued. Areas with extensive coastlines and high wave energy potential, such as South Africa, should explore the feasibility of wave power.”

Achieving universal energy access by 2030 requires concerted action by all partners to close identified funding gaps and enable an energy transition. There is unilateral acknowledgement of the importance of renewable energy and decentralised energy access in improving energy access. National governments in the region, however, are still focused on grid extension. ESI

This article originally appeared in Issue 2 2018 of our print magazine. The digital version of the full magazine can be read online or downloaded free of charge.