By Sanday Chongo Kabange in Berlin, Germany
Many African countries are grappling with the effects of climate change which environment experts say can be mitigated by improving on the use of solar energy to cut down on green house emissions, among other measures.
Climate change has serious effects on economic development because it will drastically change and determine the types of industries, size and quality while its effects are already leaving damage to the economy.
Drought, and conversely, floods have been the main features of weather patterns in the last ten years, as well as extreme cold weather.
Africa is experiencing the major cause of climate change which is deforestation mainly due to lack of sources of energy such as electricity and the absence of solar energy which is worsening the effects of climate change.
Experts say increased use of solar energy reduces dependence on environmental degradation.
Africa remains rich in an untapped solar resource and what is lacking, environment experts say, is commitment and at times resources to invest in solar energy.
Solar energy has great potential to improve economic growth at a minimal cost but up-front costs are usually high which inhibits interest in many African investors and their governments.
At the same time, many consumers in Africa have not appreciated the value of solar. The other great advantage of solar energy is that there is no threat of attacks on installations as they are powered by natural energy and this will ensure constant supply to the industries.
Solar energy is the solution to the present threats of climate change which is leaving ripple effects on Africa. These include extreme cold temperatures and hot weather.
Presently, the Horn of Africa is facing acute droughts and preliminary reports say the drought has come as a result of changing weather patterns globally.
“It (solar energy) does not emit green house emissions which have been blamed for the change in climate,” said Zambia’s Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources Technical Coordinator on climate change, Professor Prem Jain.
He said “one-third of the sun in the world falls on Africa which would make it easier to explore solar energy.
“Climate change cannot be avoided but mitigated,” explained professor Jain, who is also UNSECO chairman in renewable energy and environment and also lecturer at the University of Zambia.
Climate change has brought about temperature changes which are projected to rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees in the next decade while more changes in rain patterns are also expected.
Researchers at the University of Zambia in Lusaka say the number of days in the rainy seasons is decreasing and pointers suggest climate change as the reason. The implication on agriculture is the need for adaptation by concentrating on growing crops that are suitable for the shortened rainy seasons.
Use of solar energy in the villages has the potential to replace the costly paraffin especially that connecting to the national power grid is costly while investment in power generation is very minimal to match the population growth and increased industrialisation.
Environmental Council of Zambia Manager for Planning and Information Management, Julius Daka noted that there have been extreme weather conditions whether, dry or wet, which is partly evidence of climate change which could leave an impact on the economy.
This is because of gas emissions, Industry processes that produce carbon dioxide, land use through agriculture activities, uncontrolled prescribed burning and use of fertilizer.
The availability of sun in Africa has not brought about much economic development but some European countries have launched plans to tap solar energy from Africa at commercial levels.
A consortium of German companies plans to build a US$555.3 billion solar power project in Africa to provide electricity to European households.
Although the project is a major development for Africa, the continent is likely not to benefit much from it as the bulk of the energy to be produced would be transmitted back to Germany for use by European families.
The interest by the Germany companies, led by the world’s largest reinsurer Munich Re, to tap solar energy in Africa shows the huge potential Africa has for solar energy.
The African continent is hugely endowed with sunshine throughout the year, but little has been done to harness the power.
This is despite the huge demand for energy on the continent.
In southern Africa alone, the region’s combined installed electricity generation capacity stood at 55,927MW as of April 2009 against an available capacity of 48,649MW, representing a deficit of 7,278MW.
Adequate investment in solar and other renewable energy sources such as wind can help the region boost its supplies as well as meet its demand.
An official from Munich Re said at the signing ceremony of the US$555.3 billion that will not a far-off vision, but technologically attractive and also achievable.
More companies from across Europe have since expressed interest in taking part in the world’s largest solar project named Desertec.
The project would mainly focus on North Africa, making it easy for the transmission of electricity to Europe via direct current high voltage network buried under the Mediterranean Sea.
Just after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, some European countries like Germany, are shutting down their nuclear plants and opting for alternative sources of energy like solar.
Anti-nuclear energy activists in Germany have been running widespread campaigns in which they carry specially made placards splashed with writings: “Atomkraft? Nien Danke” meaning “Nuclear Energy? No Thank You”.
Preliminary projections claim that if about 0.3 percent of the Sahara was covered with solar panels, it would power the entire European continent. If up to one percent of the desert was covered, it could power the entire world.
Therefore, experts say, Africa cannot just wait while others implement such noble initiatives but must also take the lead to explore its solar energy.
Plans by Botswana to build a 200MW solar plant are an example that can be supported and encouraged so that other countries in Africa follow suit.
The 200MW solar plant in Botswana has the capacity to address most of the energy needs of the southern African country as its national power consumption needs stand at just about 450MW.
According to the African Development Bank, the continent could become a “gold mine” for renewable energy due to the abundant solar and wind resources that are now hugely sought after by international investors in their quest for a new clean energy frontier.
However, the development of this industry has been made difficult by lack of financial resources and poor infrastructure to tap the resource.
To address some of these pertinent challenges, Africa can do it the Madagascan way so people can benefit from its solar resource.
The island nation, which is the fourth largest island in the world, a few years ago embarked on a small scale exercise to harness its solar and provide power to the majority of its rural population, which is not connected to the national electricity grid.
Rural clinics and hospitals were equipped with solar technologies such as small solar panels to produce their own electricity and in the process enabling them to store vital vaccines and other medicines.
Prior to this development, patients were expected to bring their own candles to be attended to during the night.
Given the cost involved, it is no wonder experts are urging Africa to start with smaller solar projects that are cheaper to ensure power is available to the majority of its people while bigger projects can be done in partnership with willing investors.