US signs pact for up to 5-GW solar project in Botswana, Namibia

Signing of the memorandum. Source: US Embassy in Namibia

The Biden-Harris administration has signed a memorandum of intent (MOI) regarding a plan to build a solar power complex of up to 5 GW in Botswana and Namibia.

According to a Monday announcement, the US Government will cooperate with those of the two African nations involved, the African Development Bank, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

If the “Mega Solar” project is realised, it could be one of the largest in the world. The initial goal is to provide additional power using both solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) technologies to cater to local demand.

“This could transform Namibia and Botswana into two of the globe’s most significant producers of solar power, enough to begin exporting renewable energy to the southern Africa region,” said Lisa Johnson, US Ambassador to Namibia.

In August 2020, Tom Alweendo, Namibia’s Minister of Mines and Energy, told Bloomberg that the two African nations were getting ready to ink a pact to jointly deploy as much as 5 GW of solar capacity across their territories. Craig Cloud, the US Ambassador to Botswana, said this week that the concept of a scalable cross-border solar project was first discussed in April 2019.

The scheme is a part of USAID’s Power Africa Initiative under which a total of 12 GW of projects have been brought to financial close since 2013.

Botswana’s state-owned coal miner aims to boost output by 35%

Meantime, Botswana’s state-owned Morupule Coal Mine (MCM) plans to boost production by over a third as the country seeks to cut its dependence on imported power, a company official said on Wednesday.

Many countries are seeking to cut the use of carbon-intensive coal to reduce climate-warming emissions. But Botswana is anxious to use its estimated 212 billion tonnes of coal resources to curb its reliance on imported power, needed in large volumes for its diamond industry. As part of the plan to boost output, MCM plans to develop an open cast coal mine and on Wednesday, it awarded a 5-year contract to a joint venture between South Africa’s Basil Read Mining and citizen-owned company Bothakga Burrow, its spokeswoman, Boineelo Seitshiro said. The mine will boost MCM’s production by 35%, she said, but didn’t specify by when. 

Botswana has national power generation capacity of 720 megawatts (MW) but plans to double output in the next six years through solar and coal-fired power as it strives to wean itself off imports and aspires to export power. MCM ran the country’s only operating coal mine until privately-owned Minergy commissioned a new mine in 2019 with an annual capacity of 1.2 million tonnes. The state-owned firm produces 2.8 million tonnes annually from its underground operations, feeding two nearby state-owned power stations with some of the output being exported to South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

“The team will commence with site establishment and mobilisation in April 2021, and the project is envisaged to increase coal production capacity from the current 2.8 million tons to 3.8 million tons per annum,” Seitshiro said.

The resource at the open cast mine has the potential to supply power station-grade coal for over 30 years.

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3 weeks ago

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