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Southern Africa Turns to the Sun as Energy Woes Bite

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By Jeffrey Moyo

HARARE (IDN) – He struggles with a huge solar panel as he crawls on the rooftop of his house. Just below him, on the ground, stands his wife gazing upwards, with one hand partially covering her face from direct sun heat.

Nevson Devera, for that is his name, at the age of 44 and domiciled in Harare the Zimbabwean capital, has not had electricity from the country’s main power utility, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, connected to his house, 15 years after he built it. Tired of using fossil fuels for energy, he and his wife Sarudzai have turned to the sun for electricity.

Even across the border, north of this Southern African nation, in Zambia, thousands of people have also switched to the sun for power supplies amid inadequate electricity in the country. In fact, in both rural and urban areas across Southern Africa, use of solar energy has become a regional trend.

As a result, for many Zimbabweans in particular, like Devera with his wife, solar energy has become the way to go amid deepening power deficits in this country. “We have always turned to the sun to draw electricity. For over a decade, the sun has been our power source because the state power utility has failed to meet our electricity needs adequately,” Devera told IDN.

His wife, Sarudzai, is even more cheery using solar energy. “We have no monthly cost using solar. We just place our solar panel on top of our roof to trap energy from the sun and at night we have lights in our home, with our refrigerators and television powered by solar,” Sarudzai told IDN.

Meanwhile, with electricity in short supply, Zimbabwe alone generates about 1,300 MW (megawatts) of electricity against a total demand of 2,200 MW, and thus imports energy from neighbouring countries like South Africa (300 MW) and Mozambique (40 MW).

Faced with energy deficits, for Zimbabwe, solar energy has stepped in as the panacea for the country’s growing energy woes, this in line with the UN’s 7th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 7) to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

With the costs of electricity chewing into Southern Africa’s national power utilities, solar power stations are emerging at a faster pace, experts affirm.

“Solar energy power sources are geared to overtake the present expensive energy sources like hydro power,” Jeremiah Sundire, an independent energy expert, told IDN.

Even ordinary people both in Southern Africa’s rural and urban areas, have begun to embrace solar lighting in their homes as governments also begin to roll out solar power stations.

In Zimbabwe, according to the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority, 1.2 million people are using solar energy, with 83 percent of these in remote areas.

According to the World Bank, access to electricity in Southern Africa is around 28 percent – below the continental average of 31 percent.

Southern Africa has approximately 64 million people, this while the region is also a beneficiary of the UN’s Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund (PGTF), which promotes South-South cooperation in renewable energy globally.

The PGTF, which is managed by the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), was established by the UN General Assembly in 1983 to support economic and technical cooperation activities among developing countries.

In Zambia, the country is on record aiming to triple power output to 6,000MW through expansion of solar energy, this as Zimbabwe’s northern neighbour has over the years been hit by erratic power supplies, affecting the continent’s second biggest copper producer, where the bulk of the country’s electricity generation capacity of 2,200 MW is water-powered.

With climate change triggering intermittent rains across Southern Africa, many independent climate change experts like Albert Mwansa of Zambia, say it is high time that the country starts having alternative sources of energy.

“There are no two ways; rains are poor or too much nowadays owing to climate change impacts. There is also plentiful sunshine across the country and even across Southern Africa. It is time to harness solar energy for electricity and thank God, the majority of people are beginning to do just that,” Mwansa told IDN.

As many climate change experts like Zambia’s Mwansa reminisce over solar energy, his country already plans to build two solar projects that will charge the lowest tariffs in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Zambian Industrial Development Corporation.

For Zambia, solar power development comes as Lake Kariba, a shared lake between Zambia and Zimbabwe, battles to feed into the hydro power stations lying between the two Southern African nations. Under the integrated resource plan drawn up seven years ago, South Africa, neighbouring Zimbabwe, by last year started making plans to achieve 9 600 MW of solar power capacity by 2030.

For South Africa’s independent solar energy experts like Mandlaenkosi Zwane, as Africa’s economic hub turns to the sun for energy, emissions face defeat in the region. “Solar energy evades emissions as it uses infinite energy resource and is becoming increasingly inexpensive,” Zwane told IDN.

In Botswana, thanks to UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), in partnership with the government there, solar energy is fast becoming panacea for the country’s mounting energy inadequacies, with solar-powered heating systems and lighting appliances installed across some villages off the country’s main electricity grid. [IDN-InDepthNews – 2 September 2017]

Photo: Solar energy has become the way to go amid deepening electricity deficits across Southern Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IDN-INPS. 

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate






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