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US presidency backs Bots, Nam power deal

MBONGENI MGUNI
Coming soon: The Mega Solar project will light up the region FILE: PIC
The Biden administration in the United States has thrown its weight behind Botswana and Namibia’s plan to develop a 5,000-megawatt solar energy project to feed both countries and also for sale in the region.

Last week, the US State Department’s Africa Bureau announced that the Biden-Harris administration had selected the Botswana, Namibia solar partnership as a project to support. The announcement was made at Biden’s two-day Leaders Climate Summit held last week and bringing together 40 Heads of State to commit to various climate-related goals.

Botswana, Namibia, the African Development Bank, as well as the International Finance Corporation and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, signed a Memorandum of Intent towards the project earlier this month.

The deal is underpinned by Power Africa, a US-government entity aimed at boosting electricity investment in Africa and which has closed 141 power agreements worth $22 billion since its launch in 2013.

As BusinessWeek exclusively reported recently, the Memorandum of Intent will allow financing of the feasibility study into the deal, amongst other provisions, while also providing a launchpad for the funding of the actual project.

“This revolutionary mega solar project has the potential to bring renewable solar power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Botswana in the next two decades,” a statement from the US Embassy in Botswana reads.

“The project could transform Botswana from a net importer and consumer of unreliable coal power to a significant producer and exporter of renewable solar power, while also reducing Botswana’s carbon footprint.”

US Ambassador to Botswana, Craig Cloud said the deal was important in the context of ‘bending the curve’ on global emissions and limiting the rise of global temperatures.

“Botswana has taken a bold step towards energy and climate security for its people,” he said.

“To protect livelihoods around the world and mitigate global warming, we must all get on the right path now.

“The countries that take decisive action now to create the industries of the future, will be the ones that reap the economic benefits of the clean energy revolution.”

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Africa coordinator, Mark Carrato said the project was due to be operational by 2030, generating thousands of jobs directly and indirectly, while averting an estimated 6.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the roads.

“Simply put, this milestone agreement, with Botswana and Namibia demonstrating unprecedented leadership and collaboration, moves the Mega Solar project from the concept phase to the action phase,” he said in a statement.

With the Memorandum of Intent, the focus now moves to a multi-phased procurement programme that centres on the feasibility study.

International Finance Corporation regional director for Southern Africa and Nigeria, Kevin Njiraini said the agency, a sister organisation to the World Bank, was eager to partner with Botswana and Namibia in increasing access to greener and more sustainable energy sources.

“IFC is pleased to be working with our partners to support the governments of Botswana and Namibia unlock financing sources and new business models that can make large scale solar initiatives a reality in both countries,” he said.

Previously, Mineral Resources, Energy Security and Green Technology deputy permanent secretary, Nchena Mothebe told BusinessWeek the two countries were looking at tapping into the wide-open, high solar potential area around their common borders in western Botswana.

“We have not yet identified the particular area, but the border between Botswana and Namibia has a lot of land space available with high solar energy,” Mothebe said.

The Botswana-Namibia deal is mentioned as a priority in the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan and when done, will be one of the world’s largest solar projects, ranking amongst the top 20.

South Africa has the continent’s largest solar power capacity, measured at about 1,300MW in 2016. Africa as a whole is estimated to have enough solar power potential to account for 40% of the world’s potential.



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