Largescale renewable energy projects promise to transform one of the poorest countries in the world.
The tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho signed a US $15 billion agreement for the construction of 6,000 MW of wind power and 4,000 MW of hydropower with the South African industrial contracting company, Harrison & White, and unnamed Chinese equity finance providers. The investment promises to create more than 25,000 construction jobs over 15 years, and millions of dollars in export revenues. Most of the electricity generated will be exported to power-hungry South Africa.
As recently as 1995, Lesotho imported all its electricity from South Africa. A series of dams and delivery tunnels have opened since 1998, resulting in a national load of over 110 MW in winter and more than 70 MW in summer. By 2008, the electricity and water sectors accounted for 3.8% of GDP.
Renewable energy has proven to be a major boon in a country where over 40% of the population of 2 million people are malnourished. The kingdom is landlocked and surrounded on all sides by South Africa. Most of the population are subsistence farmers working poor soils. Other important revenue sources include the diamond mining industry, textile industry, and remittances from thousands of Lesothans who work in South Africa. Lesotho is included among the 49 least developed countries in the world.
Export revenues plus development
The renewable energy deal signed at the end of October includes a 1,000 MW hydro generation scheme plus water delivery system using the Polihali reservoir on the Senqu river and the Katse reservoir connected to Polihali by a tunnel. The complex will enter operation in 2018. Some 200MW of the generated power will be used for Lesotho’s own needs, while the remaining power plus water will be exported into South Africa. As part of the development, transmission infrastructure, roads, and social and environmental projects will be built.
Not all hydropower development is designed to generate export revenues for the government. In April 2011, the government of Lesotho awareded a contract of $80 million to the Chinese firm Sinohydro to build a dam and pumping station at Metolong. The dam in the Lesotho lowlands will supply water do homes and businesses within Lesotho itself.
Hydropower in Lesotho faces a number of challenges. Seasonal flows in the rivers are erratic. Poor farming practices result in considerable soil loss into the rivers and largescale siltation at the dams .
Lesotho’s only experience of wind power in the past was a series of turbines installed to pump water to rural communities and individual houses. However, the scheme was not a success. A lack of clarity on responsibilities meant that the 43 wind turbines were not properly maintained, Very few remain in operation.
Some 22 sites suitable for mini hydropower developments of up to 2 MW have been identified. In 2006 just four mini hydropower plants had been constructed – three of them unconnected to the grid. The total installed capacity was 3.25 MW. All of them are owned and operated by the Lesotho Electricity Company.
The Lesotho Electricity company is performing a pre-feasibility study for a 1,000 MW pumped storage project at Monontsa.Log in to post comments