Much remains to be done to improve levels of energy access and public services in many countries, but the region’s generation capacity is undoubtedly growing, according to African Energy Live Data, which launched today with a comprehensive database of power projects in the Southern African region.

The new data – extrapolated from Live Data’s 1,218 detailed entries for the region – show that on-grid generation capacity will have increased by 50% in the decade to 2020 if the potential of the project pipeline reported on the database is fulfilled.

Live Data, a new product from African Energy, tracks operating and planned projects across Africa. In its first release of countries, Live Data reveals that there is a realistic prospect of installed capacity from Southern African projects rising from 52.6 GW in 2010 to nearly 79.3 GW by 2020. This supplies a population that stood at 147m 2010 and is estimated at 173m in 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Were the 2020 pipeline of projects be implemented, this level of growth would mean that, for the first time in decades, increases in electricity production may be greater than the rise in population – even though Southern Africa’s demography is set to rise by 30%, to 186m in 2020 over the decade.

Achieving this target is highly dependent on policy-makers committing to projects in the pipeline that have a realistic chance of being completed. Capacity in the region is currently 64.3GW, an increase of 20.3% since 2010, against a population increase of around 17.8%.

Coal and hydropower, the region’s traditional energy sources, will continue to dominate the energy mix but with important contributions from gas and renewables. Substantial increases in coal capacity are planned in South Africa and Botswana. The 750MW Lower Kafue Gorge hydroelectric project (HEP) in Zambia will be a major boon for the country and the region, if its Chinese backers are able to deliver it on time. Angola continues to develop its huge hydroelectric projects, potentially increasing its hydro capacity by 600% over the decade (recently analysed by African Energy).

Gas and renewables are playing an increasingly important role in the region. Ambitious plans to increase consumption from gas-fired power plants are tapping into major offshore reserves, notably from Mozambique’s new Rovuma Basin fields (recently analysed by African Energy) and technological progress, notably with floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) plants serving an increasing number of markets.

South Africa’s previously successful renewable energy programme remains on a knife-edge due to political problems. But solar power, in particular, is making significant gains elsewhere in the region. Namibia is bringing online 70MW of mostly solar power through its interim renewable energy feed-in tariff, with six 5MW projects already online and the rest at an advanced stage of construction.

Solar projects in Zambia and Mozambique are experiencing teething problems but are moving gradually forwards. Zambia’s Get FiT programme is expected to add more clean megawatts.

Malawi and Botswana have nascent renewable energy independent power producer (IPP) programmes, which could add green capacity and also sets precedents for private sector development in traditionally state-dominated sectors. Zimbabwe has also managed to establish a line in IPPs away from the more risk-heavy big-ticket projects, with a number of small hydropower projects operating successfully.

Underlining the rise in importance of natural gas, Mozambique is making progress with a strong pipeline of combined cycle projects and an LNG-to-power programme in South Africa still a possibility. Giant gas finds in Mozambique and neighbouring Tanzania hold out the promise of a much more substantial presence in the generation mix: three power projects in the Rovuma Basin in Mozambique have already been announced – although these are at a very early stage of development – and South Africa is hoping to gain from the gas boom, with projects that still have a long way to go (2GW-3GW is planned in a first phase, but none of this will come on stream before 2020).

The precedents provided by the growing number of solar and other projects, and recent improvements to law, regulation and business climate are hugely important in driving the increased number of projects. Even so, increasing wind, solar and gas capacity will barely have made a scratch on the overall regional energy mix by 2020.

Live Data shows a pipeline of projects expected to be completed by 2020 in Southern Africa that will deliver a mix where wind accounts for 4.3% of generation capacity, solar 4.4%, and gas 2.3%. The figures are even weaker when the region’s biggest economy, South Africa, is excluded from the mix, with wind accounting for only 0.2% of capacity, solar 1.8%, and gas 7.1%.

Coal and hydropower account for 58.7% and 18.6% respectively in Live Data’s pipeline of projects expected to be completed by 2020 in Southern Africa. The regional figures are 19.7% for coal and 55.1% for HEP when South Africa is excluded.

These numbers represent some progress on diversification since 2010, when coal accounted for 74.1% of generation capacity and HEP 14.2% across the region including South Africa. Excluding South Africa and its still strongly coal-fired electricity supply industry, hydropower made up 67.6% of installed capacity and coal 17.8%.

The role of diesel has barely changed in terms of capacity over the decade, although the fuel is being managed much more effectively by governments than in the days of substantial rental power use at the start of the decade. Diesel is likely to account for 7.1% of capacity in 2020, compared to 5% in 2010; excluding South Africa, the proportion of diesel is likely to decrease from 11.5% in 2010 to 11.1% 2020.


NOTE: Data in this article is presented for public use, providing the figures are attributed to African Energy Live Data.

This article is authorised for republication with attribution to African Energy Live Data.