Dar es Salaam — Despite facing a direct threat from climate change, Tanzania plans to rely heavily on coal and natural gas for its future energy needs as the country strives to develop its economy.
The east African nation has suffered from a growing energy deficit in the last several years, caused partly by recurring droughts that have crippled hydropower capacity. Critics say the government has mostly failed to tap the country's other renewable energy potential to help bridge the power gap.
In June this year, the government launched its 2014-2025 Electricity Supply Industry Reform Strategy and Roadmap, under which it aims to increase electricity generation from 1,583 megawatts (MW) to 10,800 MW in the next 10 years.
Key to the strategy is a diversification of power generation sources to include much more natural gas and to introduce coal. Two-thirds of the country's projected total energy capacity will come from coal and natural gas by the end of the plan, it shows.
Currently, natural gas accounts for about one-third of Tanzania's electricity generation, with hydropower and liquid fossil fuel contributing in roughly equal measures to the balance.
Hydropower capacity is projected nearly to quadruple but will make up only 19 percent of the mix by 2025. Wind, solar and geothermal will together generate just 500 MW, less than 5 percent, according to the plan.
While natural gas discoveries off the county's southern coast offer prospects for economic growth and a stable energy supply that would end decades of electricity shortages, experts say increasing use of fossil fuels, especially coal, will double the country's emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases, contributing to more extreme weather and other problems.
"The use of coal for industrial production will undoubtedly cause irreparable damage to the environment," said Riziki Kajule, an environmental expert from the Dar es Salaam Association of Environmental Engineers.
"Policy makers need to carefully think about it and assess what would be the impact before they decide to use it on a larger scale," he said.
Besides its effect on the stability of the global climate, Kajule said coal releases pollutants such as acid rain-inducing sulfur dioxide which could harm the environment. Mining also often destroys trees and other plants, and topsoil, he said.
Tanzania has reserves of coal estimated to total 5 billion tonnes. Sospeter Muhongo, Tanzania's minister for energy and minerals, said that the government, through the state-owned power utility, TANESCO, plans to generate 2,900 MW of power from coal by 2025.
TANESCO also plans to boost power generation from natural gas-fired turbines from the current level of 527 MW to almost 4,500 MW by 2025.
Although natural gas is less damaging than coal as a fuel, with almost no sulfur dioxide emissions, it too is responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases, Kajule noted.
AIMING FOR GDP BOOST
The energy roadmap is part of the government's strategy to raise per capita income in Tanzania from $640 to at least $3,000. To achieve that target, according to Muhongo, the country's GDP must grow from $2 billion annually to $181 billion annually by 2025.
"In order for our country to industrialise and effectively participate in the global economy, growth in the productive sector of the economy is important and will require huge investment in electricity infrastructure," Muhongo said.
The minister said the government needs finance of $11.4 billion for electricity projects between 2012 and 2017, with three-quarters of the money going to power generation.
According to the plan, the government also aims to participate in the eastern Africa and southern Africa energy pools to meet present and future demands for electricity.
Government statistics show that only 24 percent of Tanzanians are connected to the national grid, while the demand for electricity is growing between 10 and 15 percent per year.
According to the 2012 census, over 70 percent of Tanzanians live in rural areas, but only 7 percent of these residents were connected to an electricity supply.
Little access to electricity coupled with low purchasing power has excluded many rural households from participating effectively in economic activities, the government said.
The desire for new energy source is particularly strong because persistent drought has repeatedly depleted water levels in major rivers in Tanzania, plunging most of the hydropower-reliant country into power cuts that have caused huge business losses and affected government revenues.
CLIMATE THREAT TO FARMERS
But Tanzania also is highly vulnerable to climate change, a problem whose impacts are particularly severe for the country's farmers due to their heavy dependence on rain-fed agriculture.
Although the government has put in place a number of policy interventions to address that threat, such as training farmers to adopt climate-smart agriculture techniques, experts say problems with weather extremes are likely to continue to affect agricultural production and the families that rely on it.
The problem is not entirely Tanzania's to solve, however, experts point out.
Henry Mahoo, a climate change expert from Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, noted that the climate change affecting Tanzania and other African countries is caused primarily by the greenhouse gas emissions of industrial countries in the developed world.
"It is a global issue we are entangled (in)," Mahoo said. "When it comes to adaptation (to climate change) we are the weakest because our economies are very poor."
Kizito Makoye is a journalist based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He reports on climate change and governance issues.