Lack of adequate regional infrastructure in energy in the COMESA region has often been cited as one of the missing links to the reduction in the cost of doing business and scaling up the competitiveness of the countries in the local, regional and global markets. Bridging the energy gap, is therefore one of the main priorities of COMESA infrastructure development.
Estimates indicate that the total installed power generation capacity in the COMESA is around 92,000 megawatts (MW) with Thermal power accounting for more than 69%, and Hydropower at 30%. The biggest paradox is that though richly endowed with power generating natural resources, only a few of them are harnessed. The D R Congo, Ethiopia and Zambia leads in untapped hydropower potential, which if fully developed, could provide for the entire African continent and even have surplus.
To trigger investment in power generation, in countries with high potential is also influenced by the demand of evacuating it to others with deficit. This is why development of regional energy infrastructure, including power transmission interconnectors, is accorded high priority.
“The energy challenges which the region is facing is an investment opportunity for power generation on a regional basis and an opportunity to build regional power interconnectors in order to facilitate trade in power from surplus to deficit regions,” says Dr Kipyego Cheluget, the Assistant Secretary General in Charge of Programmes in COMESA.
The region is now on the way to achieving the Cape to Cairo electricity corridor by implementing the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya (ZTK) interconnector project. This is a Tripartite project of COMESA, the East African Community and Southern Africa Development Community.
The project will interconnect and make it possible, for power trade between the Eastern Africa Power Pool and the Southern African Power pool, paving the way for a competitive regional power market.
The ZTK project kicked off in 2014 after the signing of an Intergovernmental Memorandum of Understanding between the three countries and provision of seed capital by the European Union of €4.4 million for preparatory activities.
It entails construction of high voltage transmission lines and associated substations from Kabwe in Zambia through Tanzania and terminating at Isinya in Kenya, over 2,300 kilometres at an estimated cost of US$ 1.2 billion.
On the Zambian side, the line passes through Kabwe, Mpika, Kasama to Nakonde Border (Tunduma) for 1000km. In Tanzania, which is the longest section, the line passes through Mbeya, Iringa, Dodoma, Singida, Shinyanga, Arusha and terminates at Namanga on the border with Kenya.
The Kenyan scope of the interconnector is shortest, 98km, running from Namanga to Isinya. The construction of this section is expected to be completed by May 2020. Commissioning of the Zambia- Tanzania Interconnector is expected in 2022.
Even as the construction of transmission infrastructure progresses, this must go hand in hand with improvement in the generation capacity. Currently, there is not enough to cover the nations own needs and allow for cross-border trade. COMESA is addressing some of these barriers and challenges by aligning regulatory framework in the region to stimulate investments in power production and transmission as well.
Energy experts observe that it will also be necessary to stimulate production from renewable energy sources, for which the COMESA region has expansive potential, in terms of solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy, among others to ensure sustainability.