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.
This 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.
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.