Can PV Solar Replace the Baines Hydro Scheme?

by Conrad Roedern

I have been revisiting the detailed article on the proposed Baines Hydro Scheme in ETANGO 4/2011.
To make it clear right from the beginning: PV and hydro power generation are both sources of renewable energy. But renewable does not necessarily mean sustainable! I try to avoid playing one against the other. Namibia has with the introduction of the 4th turbine at Ruacana and the rehabilitation of the older 3 turbines 347 MW of hydro capacity at its disposal. Hydro always comes with storage and can be regulated in output with much flexibility. But PV solar can be seen as a runner-up since price has fallen dramatically. It is worthwhile to make a comparison and rethink the solar option before starting a mega project in the remotest corner of Namibia. The following comparison is meant as food for thought.

Comparing Baines with PV-Solar:

Baines will:

  • Cost a minimum of 22bn N$
  • Will need a high-voltage power line (and roads) from the dam through rough terrain
  • Will have a water surface of 5900ha which evaporates some 590000 tonnes of water per hot day which is in the region of 20% from the low-season run-off (6.83 m3 per second)
  • Will take minimum 10 years to come online
  • Will need a lengthy power contract to be signed with Angola
  • Will need to share the power 50/50 with Angola
  • Will – for most of the year – only be a peaking station because not enough water to run the 600MW turbines 24/7 (Only 1.7 TWh energy for the year vs 5.0 TWh if water would be enough)
  • Will again not be Namibia’s own power source because of the sharing with Angola
  • Will again mean an investment that puts all eggs in one basket relying on the Kunene River

Solar will:

  • Be cost-effective: Solar Panels only cost 25% of what they were in 1995 during the Epupa Debate
  • Take up only 1050 ha land surface for the same output (1.7 TWh per year)
  • Solar generators could be sized and placed according to power requirements
  • Cost 15 bn without storage for the same output (without storage)
  • Storage for Solar falls in price with new technologies and would cost together with solar roughly the same as Baines (sodium-sulphur battery, Zebra battery etc)
  • Solar could be built where the need for power is and not in the most remote corner of the country with all the losses involved
  • Solar could start right now and would be built as appropriate instalments; no need to pre-finance everything in one go
  • Solar would really be Namibia’s own indigenous energy solution
  • Solar investments will attract all the money in the world, hydro investments for Kaoko will not.
  • Solar would mean appropriate power for the rural parts of the Kunene Region for energy and water pumping etc.
  • Solar will give the people modern energy and more time to adapt

The red square on the picture (Source: NamPower, with own additions) shows the  required harvest area if the Baines hydro yield would have to be provided by PV Solar. The biggest advantage would be that this area – more than 5 times smaller in area – could be subdivided and placed next to the existing load centers throughout Namibia. Since Namibia would share the energy yield with Angola, the area required on the Namibian side would actually only be 50% of the square size shown. I hope these thoughts will stimulate a lively debate.




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