Kizito Sikuka Correspondent
Southern African ministers have approved plans to develop a regional master plan that will guide the exploitation of the vast natural gas resources that exist in the region.
The approval was made by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Council of Ministers that met ahead of the 38th Sadc Heads of State and Government Summit to be held in Windhoek, Namibia.
Chairperson of the Sadc Council Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah told journalists that the exploration of gas reserves would enable the region to address its energy challenges.
“Council has directed the Sadc Secretariat to operationalise the Sadc Regional Gas Committee, and to develop the Sadc Regional Gas Master Plan,” said Nandi-Ndaitwah, who is the Namibian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation.
She said member states should nominate members to sit on the Sadc Regional Gas Committee.
The decision to establish a regional gas committee is in line with a directive made by the 37th Sadc Summit held in August 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa, which said there is need for the region to create a committee that will be charged with ensuring the inclusion and promotion of natural gas in the region.
In the long-run, the committee will facilitate an increase in universal access to energy as well as promote industrial development in Sadc.
Furthermore, harnessing natural gas would improve the energy situation in the region and contribute to the regional energy mix, which is dominated by coal.
According to the Sadc Energy Monitor launched at the 36th Sadc Summit in Eswatini in 2016, the contribution of gas to the regional energy mix is very minimal, accounting for a mere 1,3 percent of the total power generation mix. However, natural gas is gradually becoming more significant to the region’s energy sector as Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and United Republic of Tanzania develop their respective gas fields.
The main producers of gas in the Sadc region at present are Angola, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique, although Namibia has recently discovered significant reserves of natural gas offshore and South Africa is rich in shale gas and coal-bed methane gas.
Efforts are underway to begin exploitation of coal-bed methane in countries such as Botswana and Zimbabwe.
The east coast of the Sadc region has emerged as one of the brightest spots on the global energy landscape, with large natural gas finds in Mozambique and Tanzania.
Exploration has taken place in other Sadc member-states although the exact amounts of reserves are unknown for these countries.
New offshore natural gas finds along the Mozambique coast are expected to be a “game changer” for the country and the southern African region.
The country has estimated recoverable natural gas reserves of between 15 trillion and 30 trillion cubic feet (tcf), enough to meet one year’s gas consumption by the United States.
Tanzania has also identified natural gas reserves of more than 10 tcf from its deep-water offshore region.
However, to fully realise the gas potential in the region, there is need for Sadc to develop innovative methods of exploring the resource.
For example, the region should develop the requisite gas processing, transportation and distribution infrastructure to supply the regional market so that Sadc will not only limit itself to being a gas exporter.
In addition to this, Sadc must put in place viable and vibrant policy and regulatory frameworks to make the development of this infrastructure a reality as well as attract investment in the gas sector.
The region could also learn from other successful gas projects both in the region and Africa as well as the rest of the world.
These include the gas pipeline from Mozambique (Temane/Pande) to South Africa (Secunda) as well as the West African Gas Pipeline, involving Nigeria, Benin, Togo and Ghana.
Natural gas has various potential uses in Sadc. It can be used to generate electricity or as chemical feedstock in industrial processes or as fuel for vehicles. Another potential use of gas is in the production of fertilisers.
Therefore, the exploration of natural gas presents a significant opportunity for Sadc to address its energy challenges and move forward the industrialisation agenda and deepen integration.
One of the key advantages of gas is that it has a low carbon emission profile, making it a cleaner energy source when compared with other fossil fuels. In addition to this, it is also affordable, secure and reliable.
The 38th Summit of Sadc Heads of State and Government, which is scheduled for August 17-18, is being held under the theme “Promoting Infrastructure Development and Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development”.
The theme builds on the focus of the past four Sadc Summits that sought to advance industrial development, and takes into account the need for adequate infrastructure to support industrialisation and the need to engage youths, who are the bulk of the Sadc population.
At the summit, Namibian President Hage Geingob will assume the Sadc chair from his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa.