Our Future Energy Options?

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By Earle Taylor In a matter of months Namibia’s economy will be facing a hugely different challenge. The challenge of apportioning the reduced electrical supply and the non-win decision about which sector gets preference in the dismal power shortage scenario. It is different because Namibia, up to now, has not had the energy shortage that many African and Third World countries have gone through. Many, even now, are experiencing scheduled, unscheduled, unstable and insecure power conditions, to the detriment of their social and economic wellbeing and basic stability. The good news is that Namibia, unlike many others, still has a number of options open to avert the eventual crisis, and a little time left to do something ingenious. Timing is of course very critical to the energy solution and requires decisive action both in the short and long term as well as on the part of government and those that plan and manage the national power supply system. However, the consideration needs to move beyond talk and to put policy and plans into action. I am aware of many studies and proposals on Namibia’s alternative energy future and cognizant of the complexity which surrounds the decision of choice. That said, it gives no comfort to a country that aspires to be in the developed category within a couple of decades when energy options abound and decisions are delayed and allowed to abate through lack of strategic planning, and smart and decisive leadership. This short letter is not intended to delve into the technology or economics of energy options. That is being done continuously by a number of research laboratories and utilities, but it is instructive to note that over the last 15 years the economics and technology of alternative energy options have improved multifold. With future uncertainty in conventional energy supply, the opportunity is even more encouraging. Namibia is located at the center of both the solar and natural windpower grid and is blessed with unimpeded access to both, with little to worry about the effect of earthquakes or tornadoes. Given this brief overview, I wish to point Namibia to two positive energy options that should not occupy too much public debate and result-less discussion. The first is wind farming and the second is solar conversion. Namibia’s power demand is relatively small, averaging about 500MW of power. Industrial demand is still low and windpower could give much relief to the industrial users in the face of any severe shortage. Equally, solar, mostly suited for residential use, could relieve the peak demand placed by residential and some commercial stakeholders. The size and Namibia’s immediate power needs rule out, for the most part, the nuclear and Kudu options, in the short run, although they are very much attractive in the long run with more integrated industrial development planning, locally and regionally. The wind farm power facility employs a simple technology to capture and convert wind energy into electrical power and, sited properly, satisfies both environmental and safety concerns. It is almost an off-the-shelf technology which can be put into production quite fast. In much the same way, the solar technology is readily available and is being used productively for heating, to power small electrical and electronic gadgets and remote villages. It is renewable, does not drain the country’s foreign reserves plus it opens new opportunities for new industrial activities and services and heightens employment for Namibians throughout the country. In a subsequent letter, I will illustrate the comparative economics of these two options and the cost benefit of grasping them without further delay.