Zimbabwe-based IET Fellow Dr Lawrence Musaba talks to Keri Allan about his role in providing consumers across Southern Africa with a reliable electricity supply.
IET Fellow Dr Lawrence Musaba is the Southern African Power Pool’s (SAPP) co-ordination centre manager and his work has been integral in developing a competitive power market across southern Africa.
Awarded the Afriglobe African Power Resources Achiever of the Year in 2007 and more recently Africa’s Leading Energy Personality 2009 at the Africa Energy Awards, Keri Allan caught up with him to discuss his successes, the challenges faced by the SAPP and how he aims to grow renewable energy across the region as well as raise access rates.
Member News: Please could you give us a brief overview of the SAPP?
Dr Musaba: The SAPP is an association of power utilities from southern Africa organised by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that has formed a power pool.
The SADC region is made up of 15 countries – 12 of them on mainland Africa – and has a population of about 250 million people. Countries include the Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC), South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Angola, Namibia, Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
In the early 1960s just four countries: DROC, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, used to exchange electricity on a regular basis. They would buy from each other and export to one another. In the 1970s, bilateral contracts were established where they agreed the costs of energy, transmission pricing etc.
Then in 1992 there was a massive drought in the southern African region and the utilities at that time came together to see how they could help each other during emergencies like this. Zambia and Zimbabwe were severely affected by the drought because they depended mostly on hydropower generation. South Africa had a lot of coal power generation at the time and so they helped supply them with electricity. That year they agreed to form the SAPP and over time its membership grew.
MN: What resources do the countries currently bring into the mix?
Musaba: We have countries such as Tanzania and Mozambique that have just discovered gas. Angola’s got a lot of oil, South Africa has a lot of coal and then Zambia and DROC’s generation is almost all hydro. South Africa is the dominant nation in the SAPP in the sense that 80 per cent of all the generation sits in the country in the form of thermal power plants; but the idea is to combine all these resources and allow the entire region to benefit.
MN: And the energy consumption across all these countries comes to around 450TWh/year – which is very similar to Norway?
Musaba: Yes, it’s slightly above that of Norway, the reason being that our economies are developing; our mining industry is doing well. Electrification rates have increased compared to ten years ago – in some countries it has more than doubled and therefore the consumption has been going up in response to rising demand in the region.
I think the main difference is if you look at Norway they have to heat up their water and keep themselves warm, so they use up a lot of electricity. In southern Africa we don’t use electricity to heat our water, it’s warm enough to bathe in. We use most of our electricity for industry, particularly in mining, as most consumers don’t have access to electricity yet.
Our access rate is still low. In South Africa the access rate is about 70 to 80 per cent, but the rest of the countries in the SAPP have an access rate of around 20 to 40 per cent.
MN: Are you working on getting these access rates up?
Musaba: Yes. We’ve got a lot of demand from the farming community and also from domestic customers. We are electrifying most of the cities and also most of the townships are receiving power from the SAPP. By 2020 our target is to double the access rates in line with the UN mandate of sustainable electricity for all. We are also aiming to double the renewable energy in our generation mix, ensuring that our people have access to clean energy at the same time.
MN: How do you link and coordinate across so many countries and such a vast area?
Musaba: Our communication system has improved. I used to send faxes calling for a meeting; they would not arrive in some countries and in others they received them straight away, so that wasn’t easy!
With the Internet we’re now able to communicate instantly. We communicate on a daily basis and keep each other posted on new developments. Every day we send emails to members concerning any issues that have arisen and we receive comments and suggestions. With emergency issues you can get the details within minutes and make a decision.
MN: Do you work entirely virtually or have regular face-to-face meetings?
Musaba: Certain subcommittees meet twice a year and working groups often meet three times a year. We’ve got four subcommittees: an operating sub-committee responsible for system operations of the interconnected grid, a planning subcommittee responsible for planning the expansion of the transmission and generation infrastructure, a market subcommittee responsible for the design and operations of the competitive electricity market that we have developed and, finally, an environmental subcommittee that looks at environmental and sustainable issues facing the SADC.
MN: Do language barriers cause issues?
Musaba: Yes, they can. Several countries speak French, others Portuguese, but when we communicate we try to use English as much as possible, as it’s the language used in most businesses.
MN: How far does the SAPP and SADC work outside of politics? Is this even possible?
Musaba: The SAPP’s main task is to look at technical issues that bring the countries together. Political issues are normally handled by the SADC secretariat. They are responsible for ensuring that the political climate in the region is conducive for business to continue.
MN: Your team has worked with Nord Pool to develop a competitive electricity market in the form of a day-ahead market – could you talk us through this?
Musaba: In 2000 it was agreed that there was need to develop a competitive market. The utilities were not ready to implement a full competitive market at this time, therefore it was decided to develop a precursor to that called the short-term energy market (STEM), which was implemented in 2001.
We engaged Nord Pool to assist us in transforming the STEM into a full competitive market and its design started in 2003. It was completed in 2007 when we started two years of trials then finally in December 2009 it was opened.
At the moment we are exchanging power in a number of ways. Firstly, bilateral contracts are still running, and on top of that we’ve got the day-ahead market. Our desire is to develop an ancillary services market, a balancing market and a financial market in the future. These should be implemented in the next three to five years.
MN: What does it mean for the region to have a competitive power market?
Musaba: Things have improved. Before the full competitive market most utilities were not in a position to price electricity properly and in many countries electricity pricing was done by politicians with no analysis and no understanding of its cost. When the market started our engineers had to be trained to understand the inputs that go into determining the cost of electricity, the concept of marginal pricing and also the challenges that the region was facing. The tariffs were very low at one time, but we’ve now made them cost reflective so we can maintain the current infrastructure, plus have sufficient money to develop new infrastructure in the future.
A number of countries have now created regulators and have been able to attract the private sector to invest in the power sector. Previously it was monopolised by government utilities and the private sector was pushed out of the region.
In the last few years we’ve seen the private sector encouraged to invest in the power sector, and the changing climate means it’s becoming an attractive option.
MN: How about end consumers?
Musaba: In the last few years we have seen a desire for electricity supplied to the end customer. Before, the challenge was that there was not enough money to do sufficient maintenance and supply them. Our aim was to reach cost effectiveness by 2011. This has been shifted to 2015/16 in some countries, but with money coming in we’re able to do maintenance, and start to supply consumers. They’re beginning to receive a reliable supply, something that in previous years was not possible.
Options are limited currently, but in the future we also aim to give consumers the ability to select their supplier.
MN: Looking forward, what are your plans around renewable power?
Musaba: In the next five years we aim to have 3 per cent of the supply come from wind and solar; sites for these have already been identified.
In the long-term we expect to see a lot more renewable in our generation mix, and reduce that coming from coal.
MN: Do renewable technologies hold the answer for problems of distance and transportation (of fossil fuels)?
Musaba: At the moment we’ve not had much experience with renewable technologies in this impact that renewable energy will have on our interconnected grid. We don’t even know what will happen when we first interconnect solar to our system, so we’re studying this now. I think it will be very interesting!
MN: In 2007 you were awarded the Afriglobe African Power Resources Achiever of the Year and more recently Africa’s Leading Energy Personality 2009 at the Africa Energy Awards. What does it feel like to contribute in such a significant way to so many people’s lives?
Musaba: It is very fulfilling to touch people’s lives and also to make a contribution to society. As a member of the IET, I would like to contribute even more, and I’ll carry on trying to make a difference.
MN: Of all your work, what are you personally most proud of achieving?
Musaba: What stands out is starting the first working power pool in Africa. When we initially started there were a lot of doubts, but seeing everything come
MN: What are your aims for the future?
Musaba: The next big project is to ensure we develop the ancillary services, balancing and financial markets. Also we’re looking to increase consumer accessibility. Our access rates are just too low. It’s time for us to increase those rates, bring economic development to southern Africa and reduce poverty as much as possible – that’s the challenge we’re looking to achieve.
Dr Musaba graduated with a BEng from the University of Zambia with distinction in 1989. He obtained an MSc Power Engineering degree in 1991 and a PhD in Electrical Engineering in 1996, both from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST).
From 1989 to 1990 he worked for Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines as a senior electrical engineer. In 1996 and after his PhD, he was employed by Midlands Power International in Birmingham as assistant project development manager until September of 1998, when he was appointed head of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Zambia. In the same year, he was elected chairman of the Quality of Supply Technical Committee of the Energy Regulation Board of Zambia.
He joined the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) in June 2000 as deputy co-ordination centre manager and from February 2002, was appointed the co-ordination centre manager.
Dr Musaba is a Chartered Engineer and an IET Fellow, and also holds membership to the IEEE, the Engineering Institution of Zambia and also the Zimbabwe Institute of Engineers.
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