Renewable energy in Southern Africa
Accelerating large-scale renewable energy deployment in Southern Africa by bridging analysis and application through decision-support tools
Background, challenges and context
Recent cost declines and advancements in renewable energy (RE) technologies – specifically solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind – offer increasingly cost-effective and sustainable alternatives to conventional generation, with climate, environmental, and social benefits (depending on the siting, operations, and management of projects).
However, decision makers in Africa, like in many other developing regions, continue to favour fossil fuel and large hydropower technology to meet growing energy demand and increase energy access. In the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) Pool Plan (2017), aggressive assumptions of low costs for both coal and hydropower plants result in less than 10 per cent penetration of RE in the SAPP power system by 2040.
The rapid adoption of RE in mainstream energy planning in Africa is largely constrained by a lack of decision- and context-relevant information. Policy makers, regulators, and other government officials in SAPP countries seldom have the knowledge, data and analytical tools they need to plan a well-designed and cost-effective electricity system and make decisions on RE deployment.
In particular, the challenges and opportunities specific to electricity planning processes are not well understood or documented. The available decision-support tools are often too general, or are specifically designed for developed countries, rather than the needs of developing ones.
In addition, there is a lack of rigorous and detailed analysis of developable solar PV and wind resources, and energy siting tools and analyses need to move beyond the simple techno-economic criteria most commonly found in renewable resource assessments.
Furthermore, there have been limited studies examining the effects of RE generation on future capacity investments and system operations in the SAPP region. Solar and wind resources depend on uncontrollable weather and cloud patterns, making them challenging to integrate into planning and operation of the electricity grid (because, for example, their variability can potentially lead to reliability issues). Sophisticated, but transparent and accessible, models are required to understand the impact of variable RE resources and associated integration strategies.
Research overview and objectives
The project aims to identify and address implementation barriers and knowledge gaps in utility-scale RE development in the 12 member countries of the SAPP.
The research will map county-specific RE and power system planning and policy processes in the focus countries, investigating the key gaps that can be addressed with targeted analyses and decision-support tools. It will also seek to understand the needs for and constraints to using spatially- and temporally-explicit modelled data sets for making effective RE planning decisions. The team will conduct in-depth interviews with key institutions, decision makers, and stakeholders, including the ministry of energy/planning or related officials, regulators, utility representatives, and project developers.
Potential RE project areas will also be prioritised. Developable solar PV and wind resource locations will be investigated (considering not only the best available resource quality, but also other important criteria, such as proximity to transmission infrastructure and load centres, and the conservation value and need for social development in potential locations), as well as how much resource exists (based on technical, economic, environmental, and social constraints and opportunities). The team will also assess how locations change based on the priorities of different stakeholders. The team’s Multi-criteria Analysis for Planning Renewable Energy (MapRE) platform and framework will be leveraged, combined with recently available high-quality datasets.
GridPath, an analytics platform incorporating capacity expansion and production-cost simulation modelling, will be used to co-optimise SAPP power system operations and investments in new generation, transmission, and storage infrastructure. This will provide an understanding of both the cost-effectiveness of different generation options – as well as the trade-offs and synergies among them – and the impacts of solar and wind variability on power system operations.
The project is designed to achieve improved energy planning in SAPP countries and more accurately and thoroughly represent RE technologies alongside conventional options. The team will provide stakeholders with transparent decision-support tools for mapping RE resources that reflect country contexts; analysis that provides cost estimates and operational strategies for integrating and managing variable RE; and capacity building to understand and use tools as well as interpret and build on the RE capacity expansion modelling framework.
Continuous engagement with key stakeholders will ensure that the project has an impact on policies and decision making in the renewable energy and overall electricity sector.
12 member countries of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP)
Regional Electricity Regulators Association of Southern Africa (RERA)