East and Southern African countries possess vast potential for renewable energy development. In the crucial years ahead, co-ordinated regional plans will play a vital role in scaling up the use of renewables for power generation, strengthening regional power supplies, meeting national climate commitments and ensuring energy security. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) supports countries across East and Southern Africa in their endeavour to establish a regional transmission corridor for sustainable electricity, based specifically on renewable sources and technologies. IRENA’s Africa Clean Energy Corridor (ACEC) framework envisages a broad, North–South power transmission chain that encompasses 21 continental countries in the East African Power Pool (EAPP) and Southern African Power Pool (SAPP).

IRENA has released a report titled, “Planning and prospects for renewable power: Eastern and Southern Africa” which assesses the prospects for the power sector in the countries of the ACEC through 2040. As well as analysing the master plans of the two key power pools, it highlights sustainable, renewables-based alternatives based on IRENA’s latest dataset. The analysis supersedes earlier studies in the planning and prospects for renewable energy series.

IRENA’s power sector planning tool, the System Planning Test (SPLAT) model, is applied to the two regional power pools, including their plans and prospects for capacity expansion. This quantitative model highlights each country’s least cost supply options to 2040, taking operational constraints and resource potential into account.

With the capital costs for renewable-based power-generating technologies continuing to fall significantly, countries in the EAPP and SAPP have added roughly 40 GW of new renewable power capacity since the last assessment in 2015. Subsequent analyses have combined the two power pools into a single SPLAT-ACEC model and incorporated these recent developments.

IRENA has conducted an in-depth analysis of the assumptions and results of the EAPP and SAPP master plans. Consequently, the Agency has produced a series of achievable long-term regional electricity generation and transmission goals to guide future system expansions, and highlighted transboundary infrastructure projects that could help to create an integrated regional market.

The analysis of the master plans has also refined existing data on demand, cost, resource potential and investment options. Through a zoning analysis, high-potential locations were screened as candidate sites for variable renewable energy (VRE) development and deployment. Results from the SPLAT-ACEC model on wind and solar penetration, trade and hydropower, under six different scenarios, have revealed possible development options for power generation and cross-border trade as demand triples by 2040. The analyses conducted for each of these scenarios are translated into targeted recommendations for potential generation and transmission projects of regional importance.

The main findings of the report:

The long-term outlooks of existing master plans envisage a tripling of sent-out demand across ACEC countries to 1,600 TWh by 2040.The deficit between projectedpeak demand (263 GW) and existing and committed capacity would amount to about 115 GW by 2040. To meet this gap, even in the renewable-friendly scenarios of the master plans, solar PV and wind only feature modestly in the 2040 capacity mix – at 24% in the SAPP and 34% in the EAPP. According to IRENA analysis, up to 230 GW of solar PV and wind – representing a combined share of 50% in the capacity mix – is possible across the region by 2040.

Unless generation capabilities are reviewed and re-imagined, the ACEC region is on track to construct more than 100 GW of new coal-fired power based on existing power pool master plans from 2020 to 2040, thereby tripling carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to 1,200 megatonnes (MT) per year. In contrast, this report offers a way forward based on realistic options to ensure a high level of solar PV and wind penetration through affordable, low-cost investments. The region’s existing stock of coal-fired generation capacity (approximately 50 GW) could be scaled down through plant retirements to 35 GW by 2040, assuming new solar PV and wind projects are preferred over the construction of new coal plants.

The ACEC region is well endowed with wind and solar resources. Not only are these resources of high quality; they are also regionally well distributed. Of the 7,000 GW and 2,000 GW, respectively, of solar PV and wind potential identified, less than 1% is currently exploited. IRENA examined the economic potential of 335 zones (285 GW) in detail using the SPLAT-ACEC model.

Solar and wind power must be deployed at a large scale to ensure the cost-effectiveness of the regional power system.Under this report’s Reference scenario (based on current plans and policies), power generation from solar PV and onshore wind set to reach 36% of total generation by 2040, up from 2% in 2016. Wind would reach 98 GW and solar 134 GW. Alongside other dispatchable renewable energy technologies (especially hydropower), the total share of electricity generation from renewables could grow from 20% in 2016 to 63% by 2040.

Emissions from the power sector would peak mid-decade and thereafter decline to below 2020 levels by 2040 in most of IRENA’s scenarios. Annual emissions in 2040 could be reduced to between 26% and 35% of the levels projected in the master plans (lower by 730 MT) in their base case scenarios. If VRE deployment is lowered to a 20% share in electricity generation by 2040 (e.g. by capping deployment to an upper bound, subsidising fossil fuels or preventing market forces from influencing technology choice), total system costs will be USD 22 billion (approximately 1%) higher, while annual CO2 emissions from electricity generation will be 15% higher. The system cost does not include the costs of strengthening distribution networks or flexibility (that is no balancing market or ramping costs are considered).

Synergies between hydropower and VRE sources can help to make the overall electricity system more flexible, both nationally and regionally. Wind power offers strong synergies with hydropower across the region, while solar PV has emerged as a key complementary technology. In Angola, Ethiopia, Namibia and Zambia, for example, solar PV generation during the day is complemented by hydropower generation at night.

• Interconnector infrastructure expansions can facilitate power trade between ACEC countries endowed with different types of renewable energy resources.For example, hydropower generation profiles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and solar PV generation profiles in South Africa are shown to be highly complementary.

A diverse mix of renewable sources can offset temporary or seasonal shortfalls in hydropower. When hydropower production is reduced due to low hydrology or delayed projects, solar PV and wind power generation can be used to fill the supply gap. The supply mix can also be diversified by including 20 GW of additional biomass.

• The regional power system would benefit from increased cross-border electricity trade, partly as a balancing mechanism against supply fluctuations for solar PV and wind power.Trade volumes for power would increase by 4.5 times in the ACEC region between 2020 and 2040, while 143 GW of new capacity additions would be expected. Beyond the interconnector capacities that are already committed, the potential exists for a further 15 GW of capacity additions by 2040. The number of country pairs with interconnectors could almost double, from 18 to 35 across the region.

• Creating a renewable-powered system for the entire region entails costs of USD 2 trillion (in 2015 USD) over 20 years (cost of capacity, fuel and O&M between 2020 and 2040).Of this, some USD 960 billion relates to committed projects. The cumulative investment for power generation projects would amount to USD 560 billion. Approximately USD 8 billion would be needed for interconnector expansions. These figures are derived from a cost minimization model and would be subject to changes in assumptions; they serve to indicate the order of magnitude of investment requirements.

Examples of nine high potential solar and wind zones for development are identified based on their robustness, projected generation and contribution to security of supply. Six interconnection projects are featured for the opportunities they present for regional integration.

Rather than forecasting the future, the model seeks to explore different possibilities and their potential implications. All scenario outcomes result from decisions based on assumed cost developments for fuels and technologies. Local, regional and continental experts should continue to explore different assumptions and provide alternative scenarios. According to the report, developing and comparing all scenarios will help to build a clearer picture of the benefits and challenges of the widespread, accelerated deployment of renewables across East and Southern Africa.

The full report can be accessed by clicking here