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Securing Namibia’s future power network

Woman in Energy interview with Ms Foibe Namene

At the helm of Namibia’s Electricity Control Board (ECB), sits a trained lawyer, an admitted Attorney with the Namibian High Court who served in the Ministry of Justice before joining Namibia’s power utility, NamPower, where she was the head of the Energy Trading Department.

This interview originally appeared in Issue 5 2016 of our print magazine. The digital version of the full magazine can be read online or downloaded free of charge.

Ms Foibe L. Namene, CEO, Electricity Control Board, Namibia

ESI Africa was privileged to interview ECB’s highly inspiring, bustling with energy Chief Executive Officer, Ms Foibe L. Namene, who on top of managing a multitude of responsibilities, is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Namibia.

To understand the scope of her responsibilities as CEO, Ms Namene puts regulating the supply of safe, reliable and affordable electricity to Namibian consumers topmost. This task is under immense pressure as the scope of the ECB’s responsibilities is set to change with the addition of downstream petroleum and downstream gas, when the Namibian Parliament pass the Namibia Energy Regulatory Authority Bill in the near future.

Ms Namene, what challenges and successes have shaped you through the years?

Transcending from law to energy and not allowing anyone to put me in a specific box has been a personal success story. As women, we face many challenges: the demands on our time, energy and resources and at times gender discrimination in business. I struggled with finding better ways to balance work and personal responsibilities, but I am grateful for the support system I have, without which I would not have coped with the demands of my work.

In the work environment, like many women, I overcame obstacles placed in my way by my superiors, either because our views and principles differed, or simply because I am a woman, and they had their own expectation of how women should behave. As unacceptable as some of these challenges were, I embraced them because they were part of moulding who I am today. They were the bricks needed to build a strong foundation and principles; they were the learning curve that informed some of my values. I was also lucky to find mentors, men and women, who were ready to advise and inspire me. My motivation remains my family, my husband, my children, and grandchildren as well as a wonderful small circle of friends who remain my pillar of strength. Then there is the support of my team and colleagues, which makes every day a blessing.

Tell us more about your mentors and how they inspired you

The first and most important mentor who played a huge role in my life is my grandmother, who instilled in me the importance of faith and education and who told me that the only limits are the limits we set for ourselves. She taught me to be an independent woman, defined by the lives I touch through my work while not forgetting where I come from.

Among the many inspiring individuals who have guided me throughout my career are mentors such as Dr Leake Hangala – who motivated me to take on challenging roles and responsibilities when I joined NamPower – and Dr Sackey Akweenda – who at High School identified my potential and encouraged me to pursue a legal career.

My everyday role models are the less privileged rural women who, despite the odds, ensure that there is food on the table and education for their children; they are the real heroines!

What do you think was the most important decision for you to enter the energy sector?

Having started as a legal advisor about 20 years ago at NamPower, I understood the industry from the operations side. Dr Hangala, my mentor at the time, encouraged me to take up roles in other departments at the utility, although I objected, because of my lack of technical knowledge. In the end I headed the first Energy Trading section in the country.

This pathway brought forth the realisation the key role energy plays in the economic growth and the lives of people, thus the time was opportune for me to contribute to the betterment of the lives of the Namibian people. I was also involved in the formation and growth of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and this exposed me to regional utilities, which helped me tremendously. The stepping-stone that set my career path was the decision to not compartmentalise my abilities, but to explore, read and study and continuously learn.

Namibia’s energy sector is on a road to transition. What is the current situation and what policies and plans can we expect to see?

Namibia has a well-developed ESI that has many features in common with best practices around the world. There are a number of agencies that make up the industry, which interact to supply electricity consumers with the services they require.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) is the policy maker, with the ECB the statutory regulatory authority. The core mandate of the ECB is to exercise control over the industry with the main responsibility of regulating electricity generation, transmission, distribution, supply, import and export supply in Namibia. It is responsible for setting tariffs, technical standards and issuance of licenses.

Then there is the national power utility, NamPower, which is involved in generation, transmission and distribution, where there are no Regional Electricity Distributors (REDs). Distribution to households and businesses are handled by the REDs, Local Authorities (Municipalities, Village Councils) and Regional Councils.

On the generation side we have recently seen the entry of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) operating in the country. These are represented by 14 companies who are part of the Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff (REFIT) programme; however, there are additional IPPs that were not part of that programme operating in the country. Our current challenge is that we are not attracting utility scale IPPs but we are hoping that will change with the investment conference just held.

On the policy side, a study will commence in due course to determine an optimal market model for Namibia, which will have an impact on the selling and trading of electricity. Presently, the White Paper on Energy Policy of 1998 is being reviewed and updated, while the country’s first Renewable Energy Policy is almost complete. The review of Namibia’s IPP Policy and Investment Market Framework and the drafting of an IPP Policy are at an advanced stage. These initiatives will potentially have significant impacts on the ESI.

In addition, the National Integrated Resource Plan (NIRP) will be submitted to the minister for approval by the end of November. The current review and update of the NIRP will be informed by the policy initiatives but due to the timing of the current study, will likely not reflect the final outcomes of the three policy initiatives.

With regard to supply we are still a net importer of electricity, importing as much as 60% of our electricity requirement from the region either through bilateral agreements or from SAPP. Our peak demand recorded in June 2015 was 597MW, whilst our installed capacity is 508MW. This is not an ideal position for the country as it has a negative impact on security of supply and on the economy. It is for this reason that the importance of the implementation of the NIRP cannot be over emphasised.

The other challenge we face as a country is the access and affordability of electricity. To deal with that we have developed two mechanisms, these being the National Electricity Support Mechanism and the Electrification Support Mechanism. The objectives are to implement a transparent and supportive tariff system and to improve access to all urban, rural and periurban areas.

The ECB will transform into the Namibia Energy Regulatory Authority (NERA), which will regulate downstream gas pipelines and storage, downstream petroleum pipelines and storage, and renewable energy in addition to electricity. Each sector will be regulated in accordance with energy-specific legislation.

What projects are you currently busy with and what will these achieve?

The ECB in conjunction with the Ministry of Mines commenced the following policies currently under development and nearing completion:

Renewable Energy Policy: The ECB, mandated by the MME to facilitate the drafting of the Renewable Energy (RE) Policy for Namibia, will pave the way for an increased uptake in such projects.

Independent Power Producers Policy: The ECB is in the process of finalising the IPP Policy, which will establish the approach to be followed to promote private sector investment in power generation through IPP projects.

National Energy Policy (NEP): The MME commissioned a project to review and update the 1998 White Paper on Energy Policy to identify the gaps in the energy sector as well as to make the document relevant to the current situation. The purpose of the NEP is to initiate the timely development, provision and efficient use of all relevant energy resources (including electricity, petroleum and gas) necessary for the sustainable development of the country, and to the benefit of present as well as future generations.

National Integrated Resource Plan (NIRP): Apart from the Policy documents under development, the ECB finalised the review and update of the National Integrated Resource Plan (NIRP). Net Metering Rules: The ECB also developed the Net Metering Rules, which are intended mainly to allow customers to reduce their electricity purchases from distribution networks through generating electricity below 500kW for own consumption.

These projects and the entire Energy Policy and Regulatory Framework for Namibia is geared towards minimising the cost of energy, promoting the creation of jobs and localisation, minimising negative environmental impacts, diversifying supply sources, and primarily increasing access to modern technology and stimulating the economic growth of the country.

What are your top predictions for the energy market in Namibia in the next five years?

In my opinion, IPPs will have strengthened their presence in the global energy market and Namibia will seek more renewable energy, which is environmentally friendly and offers affordable tariffs to consumers. Renewable energy will become an important part of our generation portfolio mix.

There will also be the implementation of a market model that will allow IPPs/developers to sell electricity to other parties other than the utility. This will in turn lead to increased electrification of peri-urban and rural communities through mini grids and therefore improved access, livelihoods and services.

During this timeframe, a base load project, which is a priority for Namibia, will be commissioned; and the National Electricity Support Mechanism as well as the Electrification Support Mechanism, will be implemented to increase access to safe and affordable electricity by the majority rural and peri-urban dwellers, especially poor or low-consuming households.

What is your personal vision for the energy sector in Africa?

My personal vision for Africa is that all 54 countries collaborate in developing a united energy sector in Africa, whereby we can easily tap into resources to strengthen the sector. This vision is already materialising through the regional power pools.

Each country on the African continent should endeavour to reduce energy dependency on other countries – and in doing so become exporters to those countries who need assistance in the development of their respective sectors – and adhere to the Energy Trilemma core objectives of energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability as identified by the World Energy Council.

For Namibia, my vision is for the country to become energy secure and export to the rest of the region, and for women to rise to the occasion and work alongside their male counterparts in securing development for themselves across the energy sector. I also wish to see access to energy become a basic right and not a luxury.

What has surprised you about being a woman in the energy sector?

That I could enjoy and love what I do – that energy, and what it can achieve, becomes more of a passion and lifelong commitment; it is a career, not just a job.

Since the energy sector is quite technical it might have been challenging, but with the trust and support of male counterparts, in terms of making industry-related decisions, made it easier. To hold a position of CEO is a big responsibility: not only am I accountable to my Board and government but also to ±2.5 million Namibians who are expecting their lives to be transformed by, and through, this industry.

As the CEO, I have a responsibility towards my colleagues – whom I lead, guide, mentor and learn from – and above all, to preserve the integrity of the institution. I am accountable to achieve the dream of “we will rise together as a team”. I was surprised to realise how right my mentors were that I would not only enjoy being in this sector but I would also understand its importance to the country’s economy – but more so to its people.

I am surprised at what is out there that is yet to be explored, and more so at how much I still have to learn.

What energy sector legacy do you wish to leave behind?

That all policies developed during my time as CEO are implemented and that there is continuous monitoring as and when technologies mature and improve. To see that most parts of Namibia, especially the rural communities and marginalised people, benefit from energy projects, and that access to affordable electricity is realised.

It is important to me that the policies, regulations and laws that we are working on now will translate into tangible benefits for our country and people. That energy is achieving its true meaning in the lives of our people.

For the institution, I want to leave a legacy of having successfully transformed ECB into an energy regulator, with the responsibility to oversee the regulatory aspect of electricity, downstream gas including gas pipelines and storage facilities, downstream petroleum pipelines and storage facilities, renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy conservation. I also wish to leave behind an efficient, focused and credible institution that truly has the interests of the Namibian people at heart.

What words of encouragement do you have for women in the industry?

Do not limit yourself, become involved as a collective. Learn, explore, challenge yourself, support each other and encourage young women to do the impossible.

Work harder to strengthen ties with women in the energy sector from different parts of the world. If you make mistakes, learn from them and be the leaders you are born to be.

Have mentors (men and women) and mentor others. Do not underestimate the value of the family support system.

Use every challenge as a stepping stone to greater success.

 It has been a pleasure getting to know you Ms Namene. Do you have any last words?

We live in challenging times if current statistics on the economic outlook of the country is anything to go by. But, these challenges are not insurmountable if we approach our infrastructure development (roads, water, energy, health, and housing) in a coordinated fashion. We should therefore strive to always make right and timely decisions, and implement effectively. Moving on such a path will enable us to meet our national development goals. We have a responsibility to ensure that the attainment of much needed benefits to our people do not get lost in Boardroom politics.

Featured image: Ms Namene visits the Van Eck Coal Power Station in Windhoek


This interview originally appeared in Issue 5 2016 of our print magazine. The digital version of the full magazine can be read online or downloaded free of charge.