Zimbabwe: Solar Power Is the Answer

Solar energy is the specific new generation of renewable clean energy sources needed to meet up with the changes in the climate system.

It improves the sustainability of livelihoods among the rural poor, answers the call for frequent power cuts in urban areas and could be a long-term solution for energy requirements within the small scale-farming sector.

Critically, investment in solar energies will reduce national green house gas emissions – believed to be the biggest driver of global warming and climate change.

At the same time, such strategies will precipitate Zimbabwe’s transition into a low carbon energy economy.

The level of investment in low carbon technologies in the country at present is disappointing despite empirical evidence of the high level of risk caused by climate change in the short and long run.

The promulgation of clear cut policy framework that support the development of clean energies including solar must be taken seriously and implemented now.

It seems likely that at the forthcoming UN climate summit in Durban this November, developed countries are going to demand more action from developing nations to commit to limiting their own emissions, insignificant as they may be. If that demand sails through, there is a remote possibility countries like Zimbabwe will be called to commit.

Based on this possible technical scenario, the pressure is on the country to start exploring, promoting and exploiting effective, efficient use of cleaner renewable energies. This will reduce the dependence on carbon intensive energy sources such as coal, which despite its abundance, Zimbabwe has continued to struggle with its power generation.

There is a great potential for developing solar in Zimbabwe. The market is very vast, ranging from angry urban dwellers who have endured regular power cuts for several years, and the rural folk eager to see the light; the country has an abundance of sunlight, which is being under utilised.

Statistics released in 2000 show that the national energy balance stood at 53 percent for wood fuel, 20 percent coal, liquid fuel 14 percent and 13 percent for electricity. The numbers underline the reason why Zimbabwe has lost its rich forests that act as carbon sinks.

Trees suck up all the carbon emitted through industrial and automobile pollution, which could have otherwise fuelled the warming of the earth’s surface.

Those people in the wood fuel category, mostly rural and other disgruntled Zesa electricity consumers may be captured for solar, particularly for lighting, heating and cooking purposes. Other target markets include small scale farming communities and light industries.

Solar energy specialist Nyikadzino Gonese said, “Educate everyone – its time to look to the sun.” Speaking at an international power conference held in Harare late last month, Gonese said education was key for prospects to appreciating the advantages of using solar.

“Energy is the heart that pumps the blood of economic activity,” he said.

For it to prosper in Zimbabwe, funds earmarked for rural electrification must be converted to solar, he suggested, emphasising also the need to institute legislation on installation of solar geysers for new buildings. It is important that authorities scrap duty on solar products and offer incentives to change to solar geysers.

In Zimbabwe, solar solutions could be expanded to cover aviation, traffic and road signs, advertising billboard, tele-communications including solar hot water systems for use in public utilities such as hospitals, schools and hotels etc.

For farming, Gonese said direct current solar powered pumps for boreholes, dams, irrigation and tobacco curing could be utilised effectively.

In 1992, the World Solar Summit was held here which increased participation and solar installations in many rural areas. However, at the end of the project disaster followed, lack of relevant technical support for clients, maintenance and general decline in uptake of solar energies.

This has been compounded by ‘lack of requisite skills on evaluation, design, installation and commissioning.’

However, Dr David Tinarwo, a renewable energy technologies and sustainable development consultant told the same conference that there was still hope for solar in Zimbabwe. He said: “solar market still remains open especially in very remote areas, which are not likely to be electrified both in the short and long run despite funding challenges.”

As at 2005, figures from Zesa showed that the rural electrification level stood at 25 percent since 1991, 85 percent for urban areas and a national average of 42 percent. This shows that three-quarters of the rural community and more than half of Zimbabwe’s people do not have access to electricity.

The figures present an urgent case for the promotion and adoption of solar as an energy source for those communities living in the dark. Solar could help kick start economies of marginalised poor rural areas while simultaneously increasing access to information and knowledge amongst other factors.

There is also potential for hydro-energy in Zimbabwe. Hydro currently provides 750MW to the national generation capacity of 1 900MW. However, Dr Tinarwo indicated that the gross theoretical hydro-power potential is 18 500GW per year, and the technically feasible potential is 17 500GW per year.

But only a fraction of the feasible potential is currently being exploited. The eastern part of Zimbabwe provides tremendous potential for mini hydro projects.

It may be challenging for the country to develop wind energy because of generally poor wind speeds while there is scope for development of biogas energies such as that from agriculture waste, sugar cane and animal dung.

However, the biggest opportunity for the country lies in exploiting solar. This will help mitigate prevailing power shortages and reduce emission of global warming causing gases.

It is therefore important that such issues are incorporated into the country’s development agenda. Legislation must be put in place that provides appropriate incentive to attract private capital into cleaner renewable energy technologies.

These strategies must be contained in an integrated climate change and energy policy framework that tackles existing loopholes, which promote rampant pollution from fossil fuel driven energies.

The latest statistics from the International Energy Agency shows that carbon emissions rose faster between 2009 and 2010, driven by China and the US, which contributed a combine 41 percent of all world emissions.

High carbon emissions threaten the world’s target of limiting the earth’s surface temperature from rising by more than 1,5 degrees Celsius.

Scientists believe a warming of this magnitude would be manageable and prevent catastrophes caused by climate change. The Southern African Power Pool, already takes climate change seriously.

The SAPP, which Zimbabwe is a member encourages that climate change issues are incorporated into long term planning processes for the purpose of achieving sustainable development.