Environmental consultant SRK Consulting is developing an enabling framework that will help power projects in South Africa to streamline the process of acquiring environmental approvals, in order to avoid unnecessary delays in implementation.
“Our role is part of a much broader programme funded by the World Bank to accelerate transformational energy projects within the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), which bodes well for the future of the region,” says SRK partner Darryll Kilian.
He notes that sub-Saharan Africa is rich in energy resources but poor in energy supply, with the International Energy Agency reporting that only 290-million of the region’s 915-million people have access to electricity.
“We will develop an environmental and social management framework (ESMF) for SAPP, to inform the approach taken in screening and prioritising selected priority energy projects in this programme – so that potential environmental risks and social concerns can be highlighted at an early stage. In addition, the ESMF will set out the terms of reference for appropriate safeguard instruments that will be used by all power utilities in the region,” Kilian explains.
Importantly, he points out that the framework will specify the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders who must cooperate to make these projects a reality, as the specific mandates on who does what in these large and complex undertakings involving different government departments, outside players, and even cross-border considerations may often not be clear.
Capacity is moreover frequently a stumbling block in moving compliance processes along efficiently, so the ESMF will determine the training, capacity building and technical assistance required by the programme.
A complex range of compliance requirements must be included in the framework – including in-country laws and regulations, current SAPP environmental and social guidelines and good international industry practice standards. Kilian notes that these are vital to observe as project loans are often sourced from regional or international financial institutions with stringent environmental and social conditions.
“By incorporating these various factors into a systematic decision support framework, we hope to assist SAPP in accelerating these vital energy projects in a way that safeguards the environment and society, and rolls out the developmental power of electricity to all the citizens of Southern Africa,” he says.
Speaking at the eighth annual Africa Energy Indaba in Sandton in February, State-owned power utility Eskom transmission group executive Thava Govender stated that the African continent required greater interconnectivity and efficient transmission infrastructure to facilitate cross-border sales to areas with high electricity demand.
“The interconnectivity [of the SAPP] needs to be increased to ensure the resilience of the power system is improved.”
Included in the World Bank’s programme to accelerate transformational energy projects within the SAPP, in which SRK will be implementing its ESMF, are transmission projects worth some $5.6-billion, to facilitate power trade across borders and ease congestion. These will focus on improving infrastructure in and connections between countries in the Southern African Development Community.
In June, Engineering News reported that Malawi is implementing several feasibility studies for electricity interconnectors with neighbouring countries under the programme, as it moves to offset its electricity deficit. Several interconnector projects are at the feasibility study stage, including the first phase of a 400 kV Mozambique-Malawi interconnector, which will run from Phombeya, in Malawi, to Tete, in Mozambique.
“If all goes well, the project will be commissioned in 2018. Electricidade de Moçambique, the power utility in Mozambique, has committed to supplying 50 MW to Malawi,” says Mozambican Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining spokesperson Joseph Kalowekamo.
The Bretton Woods institution is also financing the feasibility study for the 400 kV Malawi-Tanzania interconnector, which will run from Nkhoma, in Malawi, to Tanzania through Songwe. The Malawi-Tanzania link will interconnect the SAPP with the Eastern African Power Pool, making Malawi a key player in the African power trade.
Last year, Malawi and Zambia signed a memorandum of understanding pertaining to the construction of an interconnector linking the power grids of the two countries. The World Bank, through the Energy Sector Support Project, is also financing the feasibility study for the interconnector, a 300 kV power line that will run from Chipata, in Zambia, to Nkhoma, in Malawi. A 400 kV second-phase interconnection between Malawi and Mozambique is also being considered.
World Energy Council secretary-general Dr Christoph Frei adds that improved interconnectivity is critical to ensuring the actualisation of Southern Africa’s impressive hydroelectric potential. He highlights that the proposed ‘Zizabona’ electricity interconnector will facilitate power trade across Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, ease congestion on the existing north-south transmission corridor from South Africa to Zimbabwe and add a 400 kV western corridor to the SAPP.