Tatenda Matewa, is a graduate from MSU in Zimbabwe. In this post, Tatenda looks at the different opportunities for sustainable energy production in his country and across the whole continent of Africa.
Every day I wake up to the sound of crying ravens, flying all over the hood, landing here and there to scavenge for food. This year has been extremely different from other years. The longer I stand outside, their cries remind me to look into the sky and see how naked it is. It reminds me of the myth that if ravens cry over a long period of time, they signal the change of weather. But this has been happening for almost a month now yet the weather didn’t change.
This made me think of the climate change that we now live with on a daily basis, news stations awash with stories of how 2015 has been the warmest year ever recorded. I tend to concur, since it has been hard for one to stay indoors for long or in direct sunlight . To stay indoors is like you have been thrown into a furnace with no remedy since people can’t cool themselves from the heat due to constant power cut some lasting more than 15 hours.
This scenario brings me to the essence of my story about how climate changes effects energy production, how we consume it and ways to adapt for Africa and Zimbabwe in particular.
Effects of Climate change on energy production
Statistics from the World Bank show that Africa relies primarily on two major sources for energy, 80% from fossil fuels (including coal, gas and oil) and just under 8% from hydroelectric power. This hydro power is drawn from abundant water bodies such as Cahora Bassa, Lake Victoria and the Kariba dam among others. If Africa is to reduce its pollution levels, it needs to produce a greater amount of sustainable energy.
The US Department of Energy argues that a decrease in water availability across regions and seasons will have an impact on both hydroelectric power production and thermal power stations. This has been the case with our own mighty Kariba hydro power station as the Zambezi river authority announced that it was going to cut water supply for electricity production. This resulted in a fall from 750MW to less than 400MW. Thermoelectric supply is also affected as there is less water available to fulfil the operational requirement to cool the power plants.
Climate change is mostly associated with the impact of extreme weather conditions, such as the destruction of infrastructure that took place with Hurricane Katrina in USA and Cyclone Eline in Southern Africa. But it is these impacts on the production of energy that will also put a significant strain on Africa’s power grid.
Ways to adapt
If Africa is to tackle climate change, there’s a lot that needs to be done. A report by WWF suggests that in order to keep global temperature rises below 2 degrees, greenhouse emissions need to be cut by 95% by 2050, with the more immediate target of 40% by the year 2020 and 55% by the year 2030. Here are some of the opportunities that Africa has to help meet those targets:
For thousands of years communities have been using windmills to grind grain and pump water but today wind turbines are being used to make electricity and since 1990 wind energy has been the fastest growing energy source in the world and on the African continent. South Africa is setting the pace in investing in wind turbines on a larger sale. This source of energy is exciting as new inventions have been achieved by a Malawian who invented a windmill that is able to pump water for irrigation and is able to supply electricity for lighting. This is important for the agricultural industry that Africa depends on.
Geothermal power is heat stored in the earth and it is harvested by drilling 1 to 3 kilometers into the earth to pump steam or hot water to the surface to make energy. According to Wanjira Mathai, Director of the Partnership for Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables at the University of Nairobi, Kenya was the first country to begin drilling for geo-thermal power and the majority of geo-thermal power plants are concentrated in the east African rift valley.
Solar energy is the conversion of electricity either through photovoltaic or solar thermal technologies. When sunlight hits photovoltaic cells made of silicon or other material a chemical reaction occurs, thereby producing electricity. The other way electricity can be produced is when cells are packaged together to make solar panels and these technologies concentrate the sun’s rays with mirrors to heat a liquid and create steam. This steam is used to power a generator and create electricity. With Africa’s exposure to the sun, this is a great opportunity.
With the decade 2014 to 2024 being declared a decade of sustainable energy for all by the United Nations, this opens a window for Africa to explore ways and court investors who are interested in developing power stations that promote the use of clean and renewable sources.
Access to energy according to UN has been the major driver of development in the industrialized and emerging economies. Energy has helped improve food production, enhance education create economic opportunities and empower young people and women, provide clean water eradicate poverty and address climate change. We must take advantage of this opportunity in Africa too.
Webber B . (September 2008). Energy versus water: solving both crises together. Article featured in the scientific American. Accessed from www.scientificamerican.com
Mills G, (October 2015). Kariba dam and power crises: the cost of poor management. Article featured in the independent newspaper Zimbabwe. Accessed on www.theindepemdent.co.zw
IEA, (2014). World Energy Outlook. International Energy Agency, Paris. Accessed on www.worldenergyoutlook.org
World Bank, (2012). World Development Report. Washington, DC. Accessed on www.worldbank.org
Wanjira Mathai (2014), understanding climate change. The solutions: taking action to reduce climate change. Notes prepared for YALI network online training series, Washington, DC. Accessed on youngafricanleaders.state.gov