HYDROPOWER, which provides 70% or more of the electricity supply in eight of the 12 mainland member countries that make the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), is especially vulnerable to climate change.
The southern African region is likely to experience higher temperatures and lower precipitation in the future, which is expected to severely affect electricity generation from hydropower.
Failing to account for the risks of climate change may lead to lower than expected generation from hydropower assets, affecting their economic viability and resulting in costly adaptation measures, such as load shedding or expensive diesel power generation and short-term emergency power imports from neighbouring regions (already seen in South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe).
The risks are likely to be exacerbated by countries in the region continuing to pursue new large-scale hydropower projects without diversifying sources of electricity supply.
Understanding and incorporating the effects of climate change in power sector planning is, therefore, crucial for ensuring the economic and climate resilience of electricity infrastructure.
Yet few studies have examined the impacts of future climate change scenarios on electricity system pathways at a regional level in southern Africa or identified strategies that could mitigate them.
In addition, optimal energy development pathways should be shaped by goals to protect biodiversity and areas important to local communities.
Large-scale deployment of wind and solar power plants and proposed new hydropower dams may directly conflict with biodiversity and ecosystem services and negatively impact local communities.
If not addressed, conflicts are likely to result in project delays and cost overruns, and require mitigation and compensation costs that would affect the feasibility of new energy infrastructure that is critical for achieving energy security, economic growth, and climate goals.
Careful planning is important to avoid areas with high conservation and societal value.
However, detailed data sets for biodiversity and societal criteria for renewable energy planning in southern Africa do not exist.