Grace C Wu | ‘No-regrets’ renewable alternatives to coal power in Mozambique

‘No-regrets’ renewable alternatives to coal power in Mozambique

‘No-regrets’ renewable alternatives to coal power in Mozambique

What is the value of multi-criteria resource mapping of wind and solar? I tackle this question using a timely mini case study of energy development in the Tete province of Mozambique.

The Tete province is an important region of energy development not just for Mozambique, but for the greater part of Southern Africa, through interconnections and energy trade facilitated by the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP). It is the location of the massive Cahora Bassa Dam and reservoir, which supplies electricity to Zimbabwe and South Africa.  In recent years, it has been a hub for coal mining and coal generated electricity. The scale at which land in Tete has been and continues to be leased for coal mining is causing widespread human resettlement and social unrest. The severity of socio-environmental conflict in this region has attracted the attention of international watchdog organizations such as the Human Rights Watch and the Environmental Justice Atlas (image reproduced below).

Chinese investors are the newest entrants seeking to cash in on these coal development opportunities. In the June 2016 issue of Africa Energy, it was announced that China’s State Power Investment Corporation would finance an integrated coal mine and power plant scheme (Ncondezi) in the Tete Province beginning with 300 MW and expanding to 1,800 MW. If successful, it will be the largest fossil-fuel power plant in the country and will rival the 2,075 MW Cahora Bassa Dam in its generation capacity. The most recent development towards this ultimate goal is the signing on Nov 8, 2017 of a non-binding offer with China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) and General Electric South Africa Ltd for the building of the first phase 300 MW Ncondezi coal-fired power plant.

This is where much-need research on more benign alternatives comes in. Through our MapRE study with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), we identified high quality wind and solar photovoltaic resources in the Tete province, that in some areas, spatially coincide with locations of proposed coal leases. Further, our analysis of wind profiles in the Tete region of Mozambique shows that they are extremely well matched to electricity profiles in the SAPP. For either energy export or domestic use, wind energy in the Tete would have high economic, social, and environmental value. Because wind and solar energy is modular and non-polluting in its operational phase, it can co-exist with farming, livestock grazing, and village life. In fact, around 5 GW of wind power in Mozambique is prime ‘no-regrets’ generation potential in having favorable generation profiles, low-environmental impact, being close to existing load centers and transmission lines. How could these maps and analysis change the trajectory of energy development in the Tete province if made available to investors, decision-makers, and affected communities?

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