Renewable energy interconnections in the Southern African region



On 1 June, the Climate Parliament organised a parliamentary roundtable to discuss potential energy interconnection projects in the Southern African region, in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and with the support of the European Commission (DG INTPA). Our session featured two experts in this field, Crispen Zana, Principal Energy Advisor for the Africa-EU Energy Partnership, and Moeketsi Thobela, Chief Renewable Energy Investment Specialist for the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA) at the African Development Bank. Parliamentarians from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe joined our discussion.


Secretary-General of the Climate Parliament, Nick Dunlop, asked both experts to give an overview of the existing energy interconnections in Africa. Five independent regional power pools, the Southern African Power Pool, the Eastern Africa Power Pool, the Central African Power Pool, the West African Power Pool, and COMELEC (the North African Power Pool) already cover the whole continent, with each pool managing their own interconnectivity with different levels of integration. The Continental Power Systems Masterplan and the African Single Electricity Market will aim at linking all these pools together to connect all 55 African countries on a single grid, allowing them to trade energy across borders with lower prices and increased reliability. When this project becomes a reality, it will be the biggest interconnection in the world in geographical terms.


Energy interconnection offers immense economic benefits. In Southern Africa, Angola sits on 6,000 MW of surplus electricity, while South Africa regularly experiences power outages. If transmission lines linked up the two countries, Angola could export electricity and increase its national revenue while South Africa would be able to meet its national energy demand. Cross-border interconnections allow countries to balance their supply and demand of electricity and overcome the intermittence of renewable energy. From Cabo Verde to Mauritius and the Seychelles, Africa stretches over 6 time zones and countries have peak energy demand at different times. When the sun rises on the East coast, people in West Africa could be charging their electric vehicles or cooking their breakfast on solar power from the East and, conversely, East Africa could be cooking their dinner at night on solar power from the West.


The Africa Working Group of the Green Grids Initiative is exploring possibilities to accelerate the realisation of two interconnection projects in Southern Africa, the ZiZaBoNa Transmission Line to link up Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, and a link between the Inga 3 hydropower project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Southern Africa. Other priority projects should follow in the upcoming months. The Working Group is looking at ways to generate political will and at finding technical solutions to speed up their construction. Most people of Southern Africa live in the Eastern part of the region, while the Western part is rich in coastline wind and desert solar energy. The ZiZaBoNa Line could provide enough clean energy for the whole region with hydropower to complement and balance supply. Inga 3 aims at building a third dam on the Inga Falls of the Congo River, it is one of the flagship projects of the African Union and could become the biggest source of energy on the continent. Projections show that it could produce more than 11,000 MW in the long run, and Grand Inga (the whole hydropower complex including all dams) could produce close to 42,000 MW. Inga 3 could create 5,000 direct and indirect jobs, and up to 30,000 for Grand Inga. But despite its potential, progress on the ground is very slow and a number of issues need to be addressed before its effective implementation. Several MPs raised the concern of just transition, as some of their constituents living around the river do not even have access to electricity themselves. To be successful and well-accepted, the Inga project should benefit the local communities and foster the socio-economic development of the Congolese people. The MPs also raised the point of the financial profitability of Grand Inga. South Africa has already committed to purchasing 2,500 MW from the DRC, but talks with other interested countries such as Egypt and Nigeria are not progressing, and the DRC needs to diversify and increase its number of buyers to make sure the project will be economically viable.


The MPs asked our experts how parliamentary action can help accelerate the realisation of these projects, and how to make sure they can get access to finance. Crispen Zana and Moeketsi Thobela insisted on the importance of encouraging their governments to invest seed money, to give the private sector and multilateral agencies confidence to invest and cut down the cost of initial capital. As infrastructure projects usually have high upfront investment costs but low operational expenses, being able to borrow money at a low interest rate is all the more important. Our participants also described the hardships that they experience to make progress on such large-scale projects with every new election. By working with cross-party groups of MPs, the Climate Parliament provides an excellent example of how parliamentarians can cooperate to ensure the continuity of climate action despite changes of administration. The Climate Parliament will continue to engage African MPs in the work of the Africa Working Group of the Green Grids Initiative.