6 February 2012

Zimbabwe: Let's Use Sustainable Renewable Energy Sources

Photo: Celeste Hicks/IRIN
File photo: Woman in a refugee camp in Chad with solar cooker.


Just like any other developing nation, Zimbabwe now requires more power to satisfy rising industrial and domestic needs.

Undeniably and regrettably so, increasing demand, seen growing 29 percent this year, will be met by exploiting dangerous carbon-emitting fossil fuels such as coal that has been instrumental in driving the menace of global warming and climate change.

The 2012 Budget has already made that abundantly clear. It announced ambitious plans for a US$1,4 billion expansion and refurbishment of the country's power plants, including the big thermal plant at Hwange, and small other thermals in Harare and Bulawayo.

Practically, it would take several years, and ocean-deep global moral commitment to completely stop the use of greenhouse gas-producing energies.

Given mankind's insatiable desire for development, it is highly unlikely the world will one day wake up and decide to halt the use of polluting energies, or even provide a reliable timeline to ending their usage.

In life, however, people have choices, to do right or to do wrong. Unfortunately, most of humanity tends to choose disaster, as we now all bear witness, planet earth and its inhabitants are under fire from climate change, caused by irresponsible human activities over many centuries.

Now Zimbabwe has a chance to do things right, and limit growth of global warming-causing gases, even when its pollution levels are extremely low.

Instead of going all out on the development of costly and deadly coal-fired power stations, the country can improve its energy efficiency by increasing use of sustainable renewable energy solutions, capable of diluting the impact of other dirty energies on the environment.

There is always a cleaner, cost-effective option. That option, which we have mentioned before, and one we shall talk about ceaselessly for the future until positive beneficial change occurs, is solar energy.

Mr Flavian Nyikadzino Gonese, a Harare energy consultant, said this can be aided by biogas, hydrogen fuel, wind, or solar/wind hybrid renewable energy sources, which can all be developed with measurable success in Zimbabwe.

To achieve this, the country needs an elaborate policy target for electricity generated through sustainable renewable energy sources, which is clearly lacking at present.

Such a policy would also ensure Government opens its power generation eyes wide open to be able to explore and capture the opportunities offered by solar, as opposed to its current fixation on Hwange thermal and Kariba.

With electricity demand projected to rise almost 30 percent this year, the 2012 Budget Statement stated that Government was targeting to bring onto the national grid an additional 900MW from the expansion of Kariba and Hwange power stations.

Mr Gonese said solar was a cheap renewable energy source, which should be fully exploited to augment Zimbabwe's power needs.

He said targets should be built around achieving an increase of up to 20 percent from renewable sources in the national energy mix, led by solar.

This will also fit well into world targets of cutting demand and limiting greenhouse emissions by 20 percent each.

Power generation should aim to fulfil the Triple P principle: People, Planet and Profit, Mr Gonese explained, which would essentially improve the use of clean energies that profit both the people and the environment by curbing growth of global warming-causing gases.

"Renewable energy solutions based on solar, biogas, wind . . . are clean energy solutions.

"They produce little or no pollution or greenhouse gases and are sustainable because they never run out," he said.

Solar is generated from the sun. Zimbabwe has an abundance of it since it enjoys a lot of sunlight for most of the year.

Biogas is a fuel produced by breaking down organic matters such as human and animal waste while wind energy is captured by wind turbines to generate electricity.

New technologies are now able to capture winds at very low speeds, bringing relief to countries like Zimbabwe where speeds average two metres per second.

Hydrogen is a common element on earth, always found in combination with other elements.

When separated, hydrogen can be useful for powering automobiles, heating, cooking and electricity generation.

Mr Gonese said there was tremendous potential for Zimbabwe, which has failed to adequately invest in large-scale power generation over the last 30 years, to develop renewable energies, especially solar, at a minimum cost.

Among several other initiatives to promote the use of solar, Mr Gonese suggested that Government banned the use of electric geysers, to be replaced immediately with solar-powered geysers.

By doing this, the country would save 400MW of power, creating a virtual power station at a low cost of just US$243,5 million.

There is an estimated 200 000 electric geysers installed countrywide. Mr Gonese said assuming each geyser required 2 000 watts per hour, the 200 000 electric geysers would consume 400MW from the national grid if they were all switched on at the same time.

Similarly, the same amount of power would be saved if solar geysers were used.

On average, a 200-litre solar geyser cost around US$1 217 minus VAT, meaning the funding requirement for replacement of 200 000 electric geysers would be US$243,5 million.

"In other words, this is the amount required to build a 400MW plant, which is virtual in this case.

"The investment for solar geysers is far much less than the envisaged investment stated in the 2012 Budget . . .," said Mr Gonese.

He proposed the geysers replacement exercise be conducted over a four-year period, 50 000 every year, at an equally distributed cost of US$61 million annually.

To encourage the use of solar, import duty on related products must be lifted while the rural electrification programme should be solar-driven.

The discussion on sustainable renewable energies will not be exhausted in one breadth.

There is a lot to talk and write about. But Zimbabwe's case is clear, the country is lacking in the development of clean energy sources and by far still heavily dependent on those that pollute and cause damage to the environment.

At least 53 percent of all energy used in the country is woodfuel, and 20 percent electricity.

God is faithful.

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