Is Solar power Africa’s missed opportunity?

5 Min Read

February 4, 2013 By NqabaM

English: Nellis Solar Power Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was much younger, we would laugh at boys who spoke about the weather when they met girls whom they fancied. The idea was that the poor boy would be tongue tied and the only way to start a conversation was on the most obvious topic; the weather.

Now for Zimbabweans, there is another conversation starter, electricity. For years now Zimbabwe has experienced a cruel electricity load shedding regime due to power shortages.

During the better times, one can expect to be without power for between four and six hours, while during the worst times power cuts usually last anything up to 12 hours. The painful part is when power is cut in the morning, when everyone is preparing to go to work or school, or in the evening when you have just returned home; that is when you need electricity the most.

Our power utility is called Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority or just ZESA, but the acronym has been reworked to say Zimbabwe Electricity Sometimes Available.

How and why we got here is a mystery and our leaders ought to explain, but don’t hold your breath, I doubt any explanation is coming soon.

But it was not always gloom and doom.

In 1992 Zimbabwe hosted the world solar summit and from there logic predicts we should have carried on with the momentum generated from there.

Instead of it being a platform to launch a solar programme, it was a time for some of our leaders to shine on the world stage and feed us empty rhetoric, and 20 years down the line we have nothing to show of it.

What is sickening is that the sun literally shines throughout the whole year and solar technology would have been cheaper for us in the long run.

I have realised solar power is quite popular in Europe, but how many months does the sun shine there? It’s nowhere compared to us here in Zimbabwe and Africa.

So if Europe can successfully harness the energy of the little sunshine they get there, what is stopping us from harnessing all this sunshine that we have.

Talk about going thirsty while we are waist deep in water.

The argument that one may offer is that the initial costs for installing solar panels is very high. This is true, but in the long run its very cheap and the country has a lot to benefit in saved costs.

Worse still, Zimbabwe has not invested tangibly in power generation since the early 1980′s and most of our equipment is obsolete and sadly beyond repair.

Most thermal electricity generation stations have been run down and reduced to white elephants.

Unfortunately this situation is not unique to Zimbabwe. Around 2004 southern African technical experts warned bureaucrats and ministers that by 2007 the whole of the region would face serious power shortages.

What was their response? They ignored the advice in favour of political expediency and come 2007 the region was thrown into darkness.

Even South Africa, Africa’s biggest economy, was at one time forced to shed power, which was quite embarrassing.

Namibia seeing that it was faced with shortages, decided to help Zimbabwe refurbish its obsolete infrastructure, but the catch is that Zimbabwe has to export a certain amount of power to Namibia, no matter what, even if it means it being plunged into darkness for hours on end.

Imagine if we had invested in solar power 20 years ago, I doubt we would be having these problems.

Botswana and Namibia, for example, have vast swathes of desert land; imagine if those two countries or southern Africa could invest in creating solar farms.

If that were to happen, we would be guaranteed a lifetime of solar supply, never mind the immense environmental benefits, compared to hydro-electricity.

All is not lost, but we are a generation behind, the trick is starting now. But I am skeptical if that’s ever possible.

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