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Inside Lesotho’s Green Revolution: Inspiring a Global Shift towards Sustainable Change

18 December 2023 by Pascalinah Kabi 

 Est Read Time: 6 min(s) 49 sec(s)

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The Ramarothole solar plant stands as a compelling testament to Lesotho’s steadfast commitment to a complete transition to clean energy. Credit: MNNCIJ/Sechaba Mokhethi.

As people all around the world strive to shift from using harmful energy sources to clean and eco-friendly alternatives, Lesotho is emerging as a source of inspiration. This small African nation is determined to use clean energy to boost its economy and gain more independence in power generation.

This green revolution in Lesotho started over two decades ago with a 72-megawatt (MW) hydropower station. In June of this year, Lesotho took another significant step by launching a 30MW solar energy plant.

These two initiatives align with the decisions made at last week’s Conference of Parties (COP) 28, showcasing Lesotho’s dedication to being a positive example of environmentally friendly change.

‘Mathabo Mahahabisa, Chief Executive Officer of the Lesotho Electricity Generation Company (LEGCO), states that Lesotho is actively working towards harnessing the potential of renewable resources to advance sustainable universal energy accessibility and affordability.

Mahahabisa emphasises that Lesotho’s goal is to achieve clean energy, simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and mitigating the negative impacts of climate change.

“To meet these targets there is need to add significant amounts of renewable energy to the national power systems,” Mahahabisa told Uncensored News on 15 December 2023, just two days after COP28 concluded with a groundbreaking agreement to shift from dirty energy to environmentally friendly alternatives.

During this conference, which took place in the United Arab Emirates, world leaders concurred on the importance of “Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

Mohamed Adow, the Director of Power Shift Africa, describes fossil fuels as the elephant in the room of global climate negotiations. Adow highlights that, for the first time in three decades of global climate negotiations, fossil fuels have become a part of a COP outcome.

“But even with this strong signal, we cannot embark on unproven and expensive technologies like carbon capture and storage which fossil fuel interests will attempt to use to keep dirty energy on life support,” said Adow.

Lesotho’s clean energy

In the case of Lesotho, government is committed to clean energy. In 1986, the country entered into a multibillion-dollar binational water agreement with South Africa, focused on building dams for water transfer to South Africa’s economic hub, Gauteng.

Additionally, Lesotho committed to building the ‘Muela hydropower station in the northern Botha-Bothe district. The significant advantage gained from the ‘Muela Hydropower Station is that Lesotho now produces its own electricity.

According to the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), the station comprises an underground powerhouse cavern measuring 60m x 1.30m x 15m, accommodating three transformers and three turbine generators, each rated at 24 Mega Watts (MW).

The power generation process involves water passing through hydraulic turbines, serving as the prime mover for the generators. From August 1998 to June of this year, LHDA sold 11,124,342 MW of electricity to the Lesotho Electricity Company, resulting in a revenue of M1.3 billion for the Lesotho government.

Furthermore, Lesotho secured a soft loan from the EXIM Bank of China to construct Phase 1 (30MW) of its 70 MW solar plant in the southern district of Mafeteng.

Despite the loan acquisition facing corruption controversies involving former ministers, amounting to $70.188, Lesotho has successfully completed the construction of Phase I.

In June of this year, Prime Minister Samuel Matekane launched the project, expressing his government’s commitment to “ensuring the generation of electricity for its people and selling the excess to other countries.”

The Lesotho government has allocated approximately M220 million for this project, with the primary purpose of covering the costs associated with land compensations, valued at around M57 million.

Credit: LEGCO.

While Lesotho is making significant progress towards clean energy with these two projects and can offer valuable lessons as the world transitions from fossil fuels to clean energy, the Chief Executive Officer of Lesotho Electricity Generation Company (LEGCO), ‘Mathabo Mahahabisa, underscores the importance of understanding that renewables are intermittent in nature.

“The wind is not always blowing, and the sun is not always shining. These fluctuations can cause instability in the grid,” Mahahabisa emphasised.

She explains that addressing this challenge requires increasing base load power from hydro and achieving a balance in power generation. This necessity underscores the importance of balancing the energy mix to ensure a constant power supply and minimise the risk of blackouts.

Mahahabisa noted, “This means Lesotho has to tap more into the abundant renewable resources it is endowed with. The country will ultimately be able to export to neighbouring countries and offset the coal-based power supply in the southern African power pool.”

Aggressive policy direction

Lesotho, traditionally reliant on coal-based electricity from South Africa and Mozambique, is undergoing a transformative shift with the establishment of hydropower and solar stations, aiming to eliminate dependence on dirty energy.

Keena Malefane, an environmental specialist in Lesotho, highlights the country’s intentional pursuit of clean energy aspirations. She underscores the critical role of regulatory frameworks, both legal and institutional, in realising Lesotho’s ambitious dream of becoming free from dirty energy.

“Lesotho has aggressively prepared its legal frameworks to enable this transition. Our energy policy and climate change policy are all well in place. Without these instruments, the transition is impossible,” Malefane conveyed to Uncensored News on December 15, 2023.

Also, Malefane highlights the need for a strong cooperation between the public sector, private sector and academia because “government cannot do it alone.”  

“Social and environmental sustainability play a key role – energy transition should be cognizant or aim at protecting the environment and the people. This is a key principle of the Energy Policy of Lesotho,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Adow, the Director of Power Shift Africa, points out that countries like Lesotho lack sufficient funds for decarbonisation. Adow emphasises that while COP28 may have produced an agreement to shift away from fossil fuels, it fell short in delivering a plan to fund the transition from dirty to clean energy.

“Finance is where the entire energy transition plan will stand or fall. We also need much more financial support to help vulnerable people in some of the poorest countries adapt to the impacts of climate breakdown. Unless the finance is provided, developing countries will not be able to do it.”

Fossil fuel ending era

While Joab Okanda, Christian Aid’s Pan Africa Senior Advisor, notes that the era of fossil fuels is unmistakably nearing its end, he identifies financing gaps as a crucial hurdle. Okanda emphasises the urgent need to financially support the transition from dirty to clean energy in developing countries.

“We now need to see rich countries following up their warm words about wanting a fossil fuel phase-out with actions by the end of this decade. Rich fossil fuel-using countries will need to decarbonize first, with middle-income countries going next and then the poorest countries.

“The desperate attempts of fossil fuel interests to prevent a stronger outcome in Dubai have revealed just how worried they are about the coming decarbonization of the global economy. There’s also a huge gap in terms of finance to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change. That will now need to be the major focus at the next (COP) meeting in Baku next year,” Okanda stated.

From her perspective, climate activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Vanessa Nakate issues a warning that COP28 is nowhere near enough.

“Gas is a fossil fuel and not a transition fuel; carbon capture is a dangerous distraction, and an emphasis on carbon offsets places countries in the Global South at huge risk. The science demands a fossil fuel phase-out,” Nakate emphasised.

Surviving climate change

Kalthoum Omari, Coordinator for the African Group of Negotiators on Adaptation, argues that if the world is serious about saving lives, the global community needs to face the realities that climate impacts are increasing.

“We have to adapt. It’s a matter of survival,” Omari said.

Omari also argues that the Framework on the Global Goal on Adaptation adopted by the Dubai climate conference will only be a historic landmark if “we adopt ambitious and outcome-based targets for adaptation action.”

These targets, Omari says, must be linked to increased financial support for developing countries that are on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

“We cannot afford to send weak political signals by having a GGA framework that is unambitious,” Omari said.

Wangari Muchiri, Africa Director of Global Wind Energy Council, notes that COP28 recognised wind power, solar, and storage in the decisions as affordable and accessible technologies for the energy transition.

“For the first time, we see renewable energy taking a prominent position, with the call for tripling renewable energy globally and doubling energy efficiency by 2030. This is a key step forward as it is clear, despite the weak language, that they are key solutions for the energy transition.

“The GST text also refers to “transitioning away from fossil fuels,” another first. This is the signal that the end of the fossil fuel era has begun. While this is a welcome signal, there is a missed opportunity on a stronger “fossil fuel phaseout” or “accelerated transition” text,” Muchiri said.

At Africa WindPower, Muchiri says they stand strongly for a fossil-free future and call for the urgent development and deployment of wind power and other renewable technologies to reach the tripling target within this crucial decade. “Let’s triple renewables globally, together.”

As the world enters the crucial decade ahead, it is imperative that the international community rallies together, as expressed by Muchiri, to triple renewables globally and pave the way for a sustainable future.

Lesotho’s story serves as a compelling narrative urging nations to follow through on their commitments, decarbonise their economies, and ensure a just and equitable transition for all.

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