The Namibian WEC Committee aims to provide electricity for its people, through optimum and unbiased ranking of energy resources in Namibia (including solar and nuclear resources), increasing generation capacity, and expansion of transmission and distribution networks. It faces the challenges of rising generating costs in Namibia and other countries, and aims to work with organisations such as the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and the African Forum for Utility Regulators (AFUR) to spread the World Energy Council’s influence and knowledge and help to guide energy progress in Namibia and Southern Africa.
Miryam Thomas holds an MBA in Human Resources Management and Marketing Management from Bangalore University, India and a Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree in Business Enterprise. She also holds a Diploma in Business and Personnel Management from London Metroploitan University, UK as well as a National Diploma in Computer Studies from Lambeth College, UK. Currently Ms Thomas is the Chief Control Officer at the Directorate of Energy-Ministry of Mines and Energy, responsible for all administrative and financial matters for the Directorate. She has been the Secretary General for the Namibian Member Committee since the re-establishment of the committee in 2010. She is also Secretary for the Electricity Steering Committee at the Ministry, a body that deals with energy affairs in Namibia and is attended by CEO’s and MD’s. Since 2008, she has been a part-time lecturer in the department of Business and Management at the Polytechnic of Namibia. During her tenure as Secretary General, she has organized a series of successful national meetings in Namibia.
Energy in Namibia
Namibia is at a crossroad concerning the development of its energy system. The current reliance on imported electricity is clearly not sustainable as neighbouring countries also experience difficulties in securing their own electricity supply.
Energy challenges in Namibia are related to adding domestic generating capacity in an economically viable and environmentally sustainable way, increasing the share of renewables such as wind and solar PV in the power system, and increasing the country’s energy self-sufficiency. Namibia imports most of its electricity from South Africa and other countries in the region, namely Zimbabwe. Several projects aimed at increasing electricity generation in the country are now on hold. Energy independence is thus a significant challenge to be tackled by the Namibian government. The other challenges are access and affordability of electricity. The objectives are to implement a transparent and supportive tariff system and to improve access to all urban, rural and peri-urban areas.
The power sector in Namibia has undertaken several reforms aimed at attracting Independent Power Producers (IPPs) by providing a stable investment environment. Such reforms include the horizontal consolidation of more than 70 distributors into five regional electricity distribution companies (REDs) and the establishment of transparent tariff setting procedures, all overseen by the sector regulator, the Electricity Control Board (ECB).
As Namibia is faced with providing universal access to its citizens, decentralised systems offer a viable solution. The key reason being that solar PV has become the cheapest source of electricity. The critical certainty, however, has to do with grid stability. Concern over the stability of Namibia’s grid is valid since its population is sparse and its grid-lines widely dispersed. Studies have been conducted by the government and the national power utility, NamPower, to map out how much solar uptake can be allowed while keeping the grid stable.
Regional integration in Africa is a vital component to energy security. Collective action and cooperation in the areas of policy, infrastructure and expertise would ensure more effective and efficient exploitation of African energy resources while also safeguarding the continent’s own energy needs. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has recognized the importance of regional integration as a means to address the current energy issues, but the uncertainty is due to the pace of this integration.
Energy Access is a critical uncertainty and an action priority for Namibia, as only about one third of the population receives reliable access. The government continues to look for pathways to bring universal access by 2030, but the central uncertainty is around Namibia’s significant need to import from neighbouring countries. Until viable projects are developed for Namibia to generate a sizable amount of power within the country, energy access will remain a critical uncertainty.
Importing most of Namibia’s electricity demand is costly. It not only leaves the economy susceptible to the whims of other countries, but it also makes Namibia’s energy supply insecure. The Electricity Control Board (ECB) of Namibia has recently approved 5% electricity tariff increase. The national power utility, NamPower, had proposed a 6.56% increase. Namibia is the only country in the region which is very close to achieving the cost-reflective tariffs. Unlike in other countries, electricity tariffs in Namibia are also not subsidised by the government, hence the higher price. The government is working to ensure that affordability does not turn into a crisis.
The central bank of Namibia who closely monitors commodity prices has observed that the main risks to Namibian economic growth include a weak recovery in the country’s trading partners, and a slow recovery in international commodity prices, particularly for uranium. As such, commodity prices are an action priority for the country.
Since 1993, the Namibian Dollar has been pegged one to one to the South African Rand. Exchange rates are an action priority for Namibia, as it currently it imports about 60% of goods from South Africa. Separately, during the second half of 2018, Namibians saw the price of fuel and wheat increase due to the strength of the US dollar. The Namibian dollar would be highly vulnerable to external shocks if it were to break the link to the rand, due to Namibia being a small economy with highly concentrated industries and exports. The Namibian Central Bank is not looking to de-link the dollar at this point but is monitoring the situation.
Going forward, possibly the biggest obstacle to Namibia’s economic potential is the fact that only approximately a third of all Namibians have access to electricity. Namibia must address the problem of inadequate access to electricity (especially in rural areas), affordability, self-sufficiency and energy independence. At the same time, Namibia needs to ensure that energy sector developments are climate-resilient and able to assure energy access even in a non-stationary natural environment. The Namibian government is looking to renewable power as a solution to these challenges since the country has the world’s second highest solar irradiation territory.