My money is on solar energy that it will be #1

It’s funny that those that have the least peak sunshine hours a year in Europe are the ones leading in the Photovoltaic Industry. Currently European photovoltaic companies have achieved an average annual production growth rate of over 40 %. Currently the turnover of the photovoltaic industry amounts to some EUR 10 billion. Support for the research, development and demonstration of new energy technologies is available through the EU Framework Programme (FP) for research. Through a series of research FPs, the European Commission has maintained long-term support for research, development and demonstration in the photovoltaic sector, providing a framework within which researchers and industry can work together to develop photovoltaic technology and applications. 


Everyone who is considering a solar system will never ignore the impact it has on their pocket. There is only one cost of solar, and that is the startup cost. Once purchased, there are no additional running costs. They do not have moving parts, so they cannot breakdown. Once the PV system has been installed it will continue to convert sunlight into electricity. Because most of the costs are paid up-front and the benefits flow in over 25 to 30 years, it is important to account for the fact that a dollar saved tomorrow is not worth as much as a dollar saved today. Depending where you are from the cost of a PV system ranges in their thousands, in the US a typical $12 000 system generates about 3,400 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Dividing the annual cost by the annual output would give 29.4 cents per kilowatt-hour. But with increasing technology and government subsidies, the cost is expected to go down. Telling that to a folk who is paying 15 cents per kilowatt-hour in Zimbabwe, 16 cents in Nigeria, 12 cents in Malawi, 8 cents in Uganda because of a government subsidy of 80% and I tell you that we have an uphill task. Even though it is the electricity that they don’t always have and here is a technology that can accord you power all-day long. Coupling Solar technology with the use of LPG/Natural Gas, efficient lighting and solar water heaters will make the problem of blackouts and unreliable power supply a thing of the past. 



A UK based company called Solynta Energy which has been vocal in sub-Saharan Africa especially in West-Africa informed me that averagely for a 1kW System with installations costs US$5 230. This system is able to produce 57 000kWh of electricity in the 25 years. The system has replacements to be made and these include replacing the invertor after 10years and battery after every 5years and this comes at a cost of US$5 776. Diving the cost with the power produced the cost per kWh becomes 19cents. They went further to say that their technology can accommodate from a single room to a factory; the panels will continue to produce without limit because the sun is the most powerful source of energy on earth. The only limit present is the available space since the average home has sufficient roof space to generate 4 times the amount of energy it requires. South African born and now US based Elon Musk who I have great respect for says’ “people don’t realize that the earth is already solar powered”. To that effect his company SolarCity has solar systems for leasing with no down payment. What the people will do is pay monthly bills for the lease for 20 years to SolarCity which in this case lower than the average power station. He envisages solar as the future plurarity which means more from solar than any other source, well he made that word up.Image                   

So in the next issues I want to be talking about natural gas and biogas in our African context and success stories in North Africa.


Thinking of Solar.

Black-outs and Dry tapes has become a great challenge African countries need to address urgently. In my country Zimbabwe, this you can be rest assured to have. I guess it serves as compensation because elsewhere you cannot avoid Death and Taxes and in Zimbabwe many have got away with Government taxes. Access to energy empowers our young people to be better people, take for instance a rural teenager who during the rainy season who wakes up at 4a.m to do field work, be it ploughing, planting, weeding, harvesting before they go to school. Hopefully the school is not kilometers away, which will further drain energy and zeal from them. During the day they are fixed in lessons, no time to read and when they get home they are now on household chores and during the night they cannot read because they is no light. Unless they have a state exam coming, they won’t bother reading. When they have to they will be using candles, kerosene for light.

ImageThis problem is not customized for Zimbabwe alone, in Zambia there’s a pressing need to provide a minimum of energy for poor families. Energy options are limited to kerosene and candles for lighting and wood for cooking. Rising kerosene prices across the world mean that people living in rural Zambia are being forced to pay more and more each week to light their homes. This comes as the Sub-Saharan region is dominated by biomass as a fuel source, even in relatively well-off countries such a Botswana and prominent oil producers such as Nigeria. Botswana’s energy sector is characterized by both traditional and commercial energy sources, with fuel-wood being the principal energy source.

The region has an average solar energy potential of 16–20MJ/m2/day/country which is greatly underexploited due to undercapitalization of governments and companies. At 3,000 hours a year, this can produce 10,000GWh of electrical energy per year. There is a relationship between sunlight and climate has led many people to deduce that solar panels become more productive when ambient temperatures are high. In these dark moments many people have called for the use of solar energy for in order to secure the region’s future. Image

The rural needs which are small have been met using this technology but much more needs to be done in the urban set-up. One colleague of mine T Mkota in his days at Vondex Solar said,” Solar is very expensive, if you want to cater for your needs totally, you might need to as well borrow your neighbor’s roof and a room full of powered batteries. And what shall be of you when the cloudy days descend on you?”  Zimbabwe’s Rural Electrification Agency (REA) since the early 2000 has been embarking on educating and installing these solar panels in off-grid areas.

Not to ignore the great strides other organization and NGO’s have done, because kerosene lamps and sore eyes were once routine elements of grading student homework. Solar electricity has changed that. Caroline Hombe, a 35-year-old teacher in rural Mhondoro, Zimbabwe, can go through the pile of books stacked on her table without worrying that the onset of darkness will put an end to her work. African countries, blessed with sunlight all year round, are tapping this free and clean energy source to light up remote and isolated homes that have no immediate hope of linking to their national electricity grid. Electrifying rural areas poses unique challenges for African governments. Remote and scattered, rural homes, unlike homes in urban areas, are costly and often impractical to connect to the grid, a stint with Practical Action in Manicaland Province taught me that. Under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), countries are seeking innovative alternatives to give rural families efficient means to cook their food and light their homes. Stand-alone sources of energy, such as solar, wind and mini-hydro generators, can help fill the gap.  In 1994, Nigeria was the highest consumer for fuel-wood in the West African sub-region. Fuel-wood has become scarce and expensive over the years increasing the distance walked to collect fuel-wood. Rapid population growth has led to forest land being converted to agricultural land to provide food and export crops. Rubber, coffee, cocoa and palm oil plantations have replaced natural forests. The increasing demand for fuel-wood has caused its price to rise relatively more than the price of other fuels in the country (Akarakiri, 2002).

This justifies the need for Solar Technology to solve our off-grid challenge. My friend has just told me that I should also take a look at the causes why this technology has not made such an entrance especially in terms of pricing. So I will surely do that in my next article, inform you from the horse’s mouth what they think.


Energy Modelling for Developing countries

I’am of the thought that us the “developing world”, it’s high time we develop and be somewhere where we can safely say, “we have arrived”. Lack of access to reliable, clean, affordable energy is hampering our efforts to develop and compete on global platforms. The energy sector plays an important role in the economic sector of developing countries, basically it is a fundamental requirement and not much effort or should I say not enough effort has been placed so that we see it being made available to these countries improve their energy status. Energy commodities are an input into the production of goods and services. Energy is a final consumption good that provides cooking, transportation and other services hence I stress on the importance of energy. This sector contributes and influences the GDP and trade balances and the balance of payments and needs to be taken seriously. Hence I have always been on the side of advocating for the great interest of modeling energy demand, energy supply and energy-economy interactions.

Energy Modeling is defined by Jean-Guy Devezeaux as simply a set of equations that represents the real world. Usually both the data and theory underlying the model maybe imperfect, these models remain an important tool. They are used to plan and analyze the economic and energy impacts of policies and external events that have a direct or indirect influence to the modeled country.

Developing countries share a number of economic and energy characteristics that affect energy modeling. The economic traits I’am talking of includes:

  • Population growth and low educational standards;
  • High degrees of central planning;
  • Constrained domestic markets;
  • Weak currencies
  • Constrained levels of capital and investment
  • Narrowly specialized economic and production structures.

The energy characteristics they share include:

  • Lack of understanding of the concepts of energy planning
  • A non-commercial energy sector;
  • Scarcity of long-term statistical data;

The use of a single model unfortunately does not apply in most instances because despite all the similarities, there are differences that separate these developing countries, viz (namely);

  • Degree of openness of the economy;
  • Geography size;
  • Technical know-how;
  • Demand;
  • GDP;

In the next issue I will be talking about the various types of models that I believe can be used in developing countries.