Wednesday, August 5, 2020

There is need for clarity and honesty on Energy Plan & Security

There is need for more policy clarity on energy supply, including and more especially on solar and renewable.

That can only be achieved through publishing a document plan that is made available to the public.

The plan once published should be comprehensive and realistic enough to be achieved.

It should set targets and time frames.

There is simply no way Botswana can achieve energy security unless there are clear targets set through that national plan.

Rather than cover just generation and transmission that policy should also be explicit on the geographical spread of the country’s power generation.

At moment other than that sourced from outside, almost all of the country’s energy is generated at Palapye.

This can neither be economically prudent nor strategically savvy.

We need to increase the geographical spread of the country’s energy supply.

There is absolutely no need why power used in Maun for example should be transmitted thousands of kilometers south of the country.

This is not to say the national grid should not be integrated into a single unit.

Even then, a way should be found to ensure that in the instance of a cyber attack on the grid, not the whole country is brought on its knees.

Some areas should be insulated and even isolated.

The world over, countries are moving towards establish small generation facilities that are detached from the main grids.

This started as a way to service remote areas, but increasingly they are being designed for urban areas to cater for crisis time eventualities.

To give credit to BPC, the parastatal has been operating an own training institute for years now.

But it is important for BPC to enhance Research and Development, spend more on it and also show a warm embrace for new technologies.

Only advanced but appropriate technology can help BPC to efficiently transport power long distances across the country and cheaply too.

It will be many years before Botswana’s economy fully recovers from the bloodshed caused by power disruptions of 2013/14.

Many small businesses went belly-up.

Costs of power generators were simply too high for many of them.

Even those who could ultimately were throttled by the fact that other business they were trading with simply had no such capacity.

If ever there were any doubts, recent labour unrests in South Africa have proved once and for all the unreliability of that country as a source or supplier.

Dependence on such a supplier should be a source of concern.

Not only should we be concerned by reliability of supply, price hikes especially in the long term should be always on the minds of policy planners.

Assurances by executives at Botswana Power Corporation that this winter will pass without any disruptions proved hollow as they were sacrificed by a protracted wage stand-off fell between Eskom and employees.

From those recent disruptions, it is clear that for Botswana energy security is still illusive.

Our levels of vulnerability have been badly exposed and laid bare.

We are clearly still a good distance from fully overcoming attendant risks.

Locally, while Morupule B has grown steadily, and there are hints at further investments, the biggest problem is that as a country we are still to strike a right energy mix that reflects modern international trends.

As a country we still rely heavily on coal.

It is too early to turn our backs on coal. But the level of our reliance on coal for generation is by itself a huge risk.

The world’s energy supply is getting more complex and also getting intricately linked to geopolitics.

Already we see energy supply used as a weapon of choice, especially in Europe to blackmail consumer countries.

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Sunday Standard August 2 – 8

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of August 2 - 8, 2020.