Otjikoto power plant construction set for 2024

Elvira Hattingh
Construction on Nampower's planned 40 megawatt (MW) Otjikoto Biomass Power Station may commence in March or April next year.

Namibia's solar power sector is showing so much growth that soon up to 50% of the electricity used during the day in the country can be supplied through it.

"However, this poses a challenge for NamPower as the supply network will need to be strengthened as solar power is intermittent. NamPower will thus have to spend a lot of money on transmission upgrades. That, or plants like the 40 megawatt (MW) Otjikoto biomass electricity plant, should be developed, which will provide for the stable supply of power," NamPower's Tangeni Tshivute said last week.

Tshivute was speaking to farmers and contractors in Tsumeb on Friday about their plans to purchase wood for the planned Otjikoto plant.

He said that if all goes according to plan, construction of the plant could begin in March or April next year, while the purchase of biomass or wood would start 18 months later.

Plans in place

Tshivute assured farmers that NamPower is serious about the project, even though it has been in the pipeline for more than ten years.

"The project was launched in 2012, but delays with tenders for the long-term supply of wood chips have caused delays."

He said a new tender is already under evaluation, while the second tender process for the construction of the plant will close on 1 December.

"If we are satisfied with the prices, construction of the Otjikoto plant will begin between March and April next year."

Foreign power

"Many people are concerned about what is happening with Eskom. However, Eskom is not our largest foreign supplier of electricity. Zambia is our largest supplier," Tshivute said.

While Namibia currently imports electricity from Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, the Ruacana hydro-power station currently generates the most electricity domestically.

"The advantage of imported electricity is that it is a reliable supply. If you need it, it's there – unlike with local projects where electricity is generated using the sun or wind," he explained.

Tshivute said currently, it is a challenge that power generation centres are located far from the places where most electricity is needed.

"This means it has to be transmitted over long distances. It's a problem because NamPower often has to spend excessively on transmission costs and then has little left to focus on electricity generation," he said.

Tshivute also said projects like Otjikoto will eventually enable Namibia to replace imported electricity with domestically generated electricity.

Closer to home

He added that the Otjikoto plant will be much closer to the areas of the country that consume the most electricity.

"This will benefit the country and NamPower. Moreover, such a project will directly benefit Namibia's agriculture by promoting grazing through deforestation and creating jobs, with money that would otherwise be 'exported' being kept within the country," he added.

Tshivute explained that the Otjikoto plant will be located just outside Tsumeb and is expected to produce between 210 and 300 gigawatt-hours (TWh) – more than a quarter of the electricity supplied by Ruacana.

Otjikoto will generate electricity by burning invasive forest biomass, which will be supplied by both long-term suppliers and ad-hoc suppliers within a radius of approximately 100 km around Tsumeb.

The plant has a lifespan of 25 years and will eventually, during a second phase, explore the possibilities of sequestering carbon back into the ground. If the project at Tsumeb is successful, similar projects can be rolled out in other parts of the country.