By Locadia Mavhudzi
Africa is intensifying its quest to close the prevailing massive energy gap, paving the way for massive adoption of decentralised renewable energy.
Young renewable energy innovators from Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Kenya recently gathered in Arusha, Tanzania, to explore ways of harnessing renewable energy to bridge current energy challenges derailing the development of the continent.
The 30 innovators were on a one-week rigorous learning exercise which involved tours of mini hydro irrigation schemes and solar powered water pumping facilities which have transformed the lives of people in Tanzania.
Hivos East Africa Advocacy Officer for Climate and Energy, Maimuna Kabatesi, said her organisation believes in the power of young people to transform the lives of this and the next generation as they have the energy and zeal to innovate ways of addressing climate change and energy challenges.
“Hivos believe in the power of young people hence we have embarked on this pilot project to empower young energy innovators and link them with funding opportunities. We have roped in enthusiastic innovators from Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania to expose them to practical skills in energy innovation while assisting them to pitch their ideas for international funding.
Kabatesi said young people have the potential to transform the economy of Africa if they are fully supported to implement their ideas.
Zimbabweans who visited the Kitumbeini mini-hydro power station in Arusha, said Zimbabwe could draw lessons on harnessing the power of water to supply energy for various centralised small communities.
“Investing in mini-hydro power stations has potential to save communities especially those who are far from the main power grid. This idea can be implemented back home along major rivers like Save and Zambezi where isolated communities can depend on mini-hydro for power supply.
“ It is a sad reality that in a continent with a population of close to 1 billion, over 625 million people are without power. It is time government and development partners shift focus towards investment in renewable energy as it is a key enabler of economic development”, said Gratitude Jaji,” who is studying for a masters degree at Bindura University in Zimbabwe.
“Our country has made positive steps towards supporting research and innovation in tertiary institutions through the introduction of innovation hubs. However, I feel there is an urgent need to channel financial resources to kick start projects so that young people can continue with sustainable projects even after college.”
Through her project Marara Kumagetsi, which is all about turning waste into electricity, Jaji is working with her group to collect bio-degradable waste in Bindura and are in the process of setting up a biogas plant.
“Our group has realised the economic losses incurred through lack of electricity. We have also realised the increased generation of waste at household and industrial level and now we would like to come with a solution to the matrix.
“We are anticipating that at full capacity the project will be able to supply energy to over 100 households in a continual supply system. We believe in decentralisation. This means the project will not be static but will be implemented in another phase.”
The current energy situation in our country has revealed that reliance on the main grid alone will not work. Decentralised renewable energy will solve economic challenges especially for small holder business facilities which are mainly owned by women and young people.
There is potential of boosting economic activities in various sectors through solar and mini-hydros thereby contributing to development of communities.
Zimbabwe is now running with the devolution agenda and decentralisation of renewable energy supplies, will improve livelihoods especially in marginalised communities.
Meanwhile, Bindura University agriculture and climate change expert, Dr Blessing Masamha, said renewable energy and farming is a winning combination.
“Solar and biomass energy can be harvested forever, providing farmers with a long-term source of income. Renewable energy can be used on the farm to replace other fuels.
“In order to realise the great potential in agriculture, linking rural populations with off-grid energy sources is imperative for agricultural productivity and food security.”
He said solar energy is a practical option for farmers, especially in arid regions, enabling them to power their farm irrigation systems. Using the sun to irrigate farmlands is a simple innovation that allows farmers to produce crops over the dry period while conserving available water resources.
Dr Masamha said although renewable energy plays a key role in future low‐carbon plans to limit global warming, the generation of renewable energy depends on climate conditions, which makes it susceptible to climate change.
“Climate change will affect many aspects of renewable energy production, including the cultivation of biofuel crops; water availability and seasonality for hydropower.”
Energy is an essential factor for the reduction of poverty and economic growth. Major sectors like agriculture, education, communication, and technology all require abundant, consistent, and cost effective energy to spur the much needed development.