Power Shortages Fuel Hunt for Substitutes

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHEOK The current problems with security of electricity supply, which will see electricity being supplied at a more costly price has turned to be a blessing for the renewable energy applications. Their viability has increased now that generating electricity from conventional means is becoming expensive due to the fact that South Africa, which was supplying electricity cheaply to Namibia because it had surplus, is now facing shortages. NamPower announced recently that the country might start experiencing shortage of electricity because of developments in South Africa, from which Namibia imports 120 MW for its consumption. At the moment, it has already put all its generation plants into operation to ensure that the country is catered for. With these concerns in mind, the Ministry of Mines and Energy is looking into other options that can be used to ensure that people have electricity. Although it is not only now that there are problems that the ministry is looking into these alternatives, the general set up in the country is that it may take a while for most parts of the country to be connected to the main grid. According to the ministry’s Energy Technical Advisor, Shimweefeleni Hamutwe Jr, the Government is aggressively promoting solar technologies as sources of electricity in households to avoid dependency on the national grid. Some of the alternatives available for use include solar water pumps, solar water heaters, solar home systems, solar stoves, wood efficient stoves, energy saving bulbs and gas, among others. Already, the use of the alternative to an electric geyser, the solar water heater, has increased tremendously over the years. The heaters can be bought through a loan from the ministry’s Solar Revolving Fund and facilitated by Konga Investments at an interest rate of five percent. From a meagre 30 systems, which were bought between 2002 and 2004, the number increased to 300 systems in 2005. It has been found that all Namibian households with electric geysers combined consume N$100 million worth of electricity every year. Should Government make it compulsory for all to use solar water heaters, the country would cut down its electricity consumption by between 15 and 20 percent. “Our electricity consumption is enough to build a 60 to 100 MW power station,” said an independent researcher in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, Robert Schultz. The Habitat Research and Development Centre is promoting various energy efficient technologies from suppliers although there has been no major drive to promote them due to financial constraints, said Schultz. As a way to raise awareness on renewable energy applications, a UNDP Small Grants Programme funded project is now constructing energy trailer, which will be taken to an urban informal setting, a rural community and a school. The trailer, which will contain a solar water pump, wind charger, solar refrigerating and lighting as well as solar and gas cookers will be finished by April together with its accompanying materials before it can go out. The budget is only for the three areas, while the project will also be looking into applying for funding for a nationwide campaign. Other projects at ministerial level to bring renewable technologies closer to the people include direct financial investment in manufacturing of renewable technologies, all of which are imported. This, says Hamutwe, adds to the cost while local manufacture will bring the cost down, making them affordable and available. The country’s two solar panel manufacturing plants closed down due to lack of a viable market. However, the ministry’s technical adviser said the manufacture of solar panels makes more economic sense because of the envisaged increase in their use. Hamutwe also said plans are afoot to get investors to manufacture in the country and export to other countries considering that Namibia’s population is small. “We have approached them to encourage them in the local manufacture of renewable technologies in Namibia,” added he.

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