The challenges facing southern Africa’s energy sector in providing electricity to all are immense. The SADC lags behind other regions of Africa with respect to overall access to a power grid, with 24% of SADC residents having access compared to 36% in the East African Power Pool and 44% in the West African Power Pool. Lack of electric power infrastructure and load shedding are retarding sustainable economic growth in the region by limiting access to and reliability of electricity for citizens and businesses.
Providing clean and cheap electricity is key to southern Africa’s economic development, and has impacts on other scarce natural resources in the region, primarily water. A clean energy transition will require a cross-scale (multi-scalar) approach to defining policy solutions and reform on the appropriate scale within the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) varying geographies.
Developing sustainable energy pathways is the aspiration but barriers remain large, including a lack of transboundary power and water resource planning to project finance and implementation. Hydropower is by far the region’s leading renewable energy source but is also a critical input into the development of combustible fuels. However, water’s importance in the power sector is dwarfed by its fundamental function in sustaining human life. Striking a balance between power generation and other water utilization will be key to moving the SADC towards a sustainable future.
There is a strong, yet heretofore untold, positive story about how regionalism could act as a development mechanism for meeting climate, environment and livelihood agendas. The initiative Powering Africa: Unlocking Opportunities for Integrated Energy and Water Development in the Southern African Development Community takes an interdisciplinary and applied scientific approach, including the use of scenarios, to engage key stakeholders in the region representing governments, SADC institutions and the private sector to identify robust development pathways.
Aims and scope
This initiative aims to provide concrete options for implementing access to and generation of electrical power on multiple scales with the SADC. It is designed from the outset to engage with, and facilitate change within, key boundary partners in the water-energy nexus. Its success will depend on the active participation of decision-makers at multiple scales responsible for water and power governance; whether they can change their behaviour will depend on their capacities to act and ability to influence other actors on whom they rely.
It will address examining alternative and indigenous fuel choices, strengthening the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), on-grid vs off-grid energy systems and regional governance capacity. All options, set in a regional political economic context, need to be examined, taking into account also the legacy of infrastructure development and access to services in the region.