Renewable Energy Could Light Up the Poor

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Most of Namibia’s poor could have access to electricity through renewable energy, Mines and Energy Minister Erkki Nghimtina has said. Producing electricity from renewable energy can be designed and set up anywhere, which could greatly improve access to better power services to remote communities in areas where the grid cannot be extended in future. Nghimtina said among the benefits of renewable energy are that it could be set up anywhere and be used both for household and business purposes, water heating, communication and for cooling systems for medical preservation. Speaking at the ‘Strategic Presentation on Energy and Environmental Projects in Namibia’, which focused on renewable energy technologies, the Minister said Namibia has wide telecommunication coverage as well as cooling systems for medical preservation due to renewable energy. According to an analysis that was done, water heating alone can save the country N$100 million a year in imported electricity expenditure. Although applications for solar water heating have increased from 40 in 2003 to 400 to date, the ministry is defining strategies that will contribute to the accelerated and wide use of renewable energy technologies to meet the water heating requirements of the country. One of the strategies will include compelling all public institutions to use solar water heaters in a bid to save electricity for industrial use. These strategies, which Nghimtina said the ministry would roll out in the near future, will lessen the government’s annual electricity bill by 30 to 50 percent. Such a step, he added, would drive other end users in both the private and public sectors to use solar energy for their water heating requirements. Other environmental projects were also presented to members of the academia, regional council representatives and others in the energy sector. Amongst these were presentations on three projects that are funded by the United Nations Development Programme Global Environment Facility, namely, the Small Grants Programme (SGP), the Namibia Renewable Energy Programme (NAMREP) in the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and the Strengthening the Protected Area Network (SPAN) in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. NAMREP started in April 2003 to increase affordable access to sustainable energy services and was funded to the tune of US$5.2 million spread over five years. The programme deals with the promotion of solar technologies such as solar water heaters, solar home systems and photovoltaic pumps, whose use has increased since the advent of the programme. The barriers that have been identified as inhibiting factors to solar technologies that the programme is addressing include lack of technical capacity for solar installations, lack of awareness of solar technologies and lack of financing for the technologies. Since the beginning of the project in 2003, 30 technicians have been trained in all the regions of the country, while other financing mechanisms for solar applications are being identified. SGP has so far funded 37 projects that are aimed at the protection of biodiversity and reducing human-animal conflict, among others.