Political will key in transition to clean, sustainable energy

12 May, 2022 - 00:05 0 Views
Political will key in transition to clean, sustainable energy Some corporates in Zimbabwe have adopted solar energy as the first source of power

The Herald

Ruth Butaumocho

African Agenda

The effects of climate change globally is a subject that has become a point of consternation, possibly the most worrying issue after the Covid-19 pandemic.

While many could have chosen to ignore the impact of climate change, in their wisdom or lack of it, the problem has become a widely contested and equally worrying topic that cannot be shelved for another day.

Africa, a continent that is only responsible for about three percent of the global greenhouse emission – a tiny proportion given that the richest 10 percent of the global population are responsible for over half of the carbon emission – is the worst affected by this.

With only a handful of resources to ameliorate the effects of the greenhouse emission, Africa, through its member countries, has started working on a number of initiatives to strengthen its renewable energy sector – which consist of solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels and biomass and other such clean energy sources. 

The need to bolster alternative source of energy outside electricity has seen several African countries investing in solar infrastructure like solar power plants and solar farms.

These countries are also equipping their people with expertise in various forms of renewable energy.

Of all the bracketed renewables, solar energy is proving to be the real solution to the energy crisis in Africa.

And even though the electricity network provides much more energy than what solar can generate with current technology, it could take 20 or 30 years to connect hundreds of millions of people to the grid.

The growth of the off-grid energy sector is proving to be one of Africa’s social and economic success stories, transforming lives overnight by bringing power to low-income households and small businesses, often in remote areas with little prospect of a link to the national grid.

With the cheapest package going for US$50 for household use, it is now possible to come across an oasis of lights shimmering in the pitch-black night in a rural set up, hundreds of kilometres away from the capital city.

From mere powering rural households, big corporate organisations and quite a number of production factories are now running on solar, partly as back up and as a long term solution in dealing with electricity shortages and the impact of climate change.

Seized by the urgent need to come up with remedies to the depleting ozone layer, the African Union member states decided to form the African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) initiative to ensure that members would work on 10 giga watts (GW) new and additional renewable energy generation capacity projects by 2020, and mobilise the African potential to generate at least 300 GW by 2030.

It is not an ambitious project considering that Africa possesses vast renewable energy potential that can cover nearly a quarter of its requirements by 2030.

Pockets of progress are being made across Africa, with several member states working towards providing cheap forms of renewable energy to its people. 

But of course, it would work better if regional cohorts were to consolidate and synergise their energy projects so that they are able to work on possible collaborations, while getting assistance and technical advice from the Africa Energy Commission.

Such collaborative efforts will result in a win-win situation for all countries, since they will now be able to put programmes in motion knowing fully well that they have regional backing they can rely on, in the event of incurring challenges during implementation.

Like other African countries, Zimbabwe has made overtures in renewable energy, to assist in the generation of more power to bolster the local grid as well as ameliorate the effects of climate change by reducing greenhouse emission.

The overtures include various Government and private sector-initiated solar projects aimed at improving energy supplies in the country.

Recently, the Government revealed that it had identified 10 possible sites for solar plants, with a potential of generating 500 megawatts which are expected to feed into the national grid once the projects are complete.

Having finished all the feasibility studies, Government is now working on guarantee mechanisms with creditworthy financial institutions to backstop potential investment risks.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has since provided a grant to Zimbabwe to work on the framework that would be used in the development of the 10 solar plants.

While Government had made strides in “policy de-risking” by coming up with incentives, including suspension of duty and taxes for renewable energy projects, adverse financing conditions remain a significant barrier to necessary investments in the renewable energy sector.

As a result, only few independent players with private funds end up being absorbed in the sector, although they might not be the ideal candidates to handle portfolios of such magnitude, and may lack the expertise required.

Like any project of this magnitude, due diligence is key to ensure ventures do not suffer still-birth when private players mandated to execute such initiatives fail to implement within the stipulated time frame.

Independent private players on energy have on several occasions been found wanting after failing to deliver on projects they were commissioned to do and even after receiving partial payment.

Such actions from independent private players are a hindrance to development and should not be allowed to continue. 

These kind of projects are quite sensitive and have a bearing on national development and, therefore, should not be given to people of questionable integrity.

There are several various independent players keen on assisting the Government in rolling out a robust renewable energy initiative. 

Already, boasting satisfactory portfolios, such independent private players can be engaged on a project and based on capability.

Among the private players is RioZim, which is already finalising the commencement of 178MW solar development project in Zimbabwe, which once complete would be able to power some of its mines across the country.

The Government has decided to rope in private independent players on very cordial and workable terms to implement some of the solar projects.

In April 2021, the Government exempted duty on the importation of solar panels to promote environmental friendly sources of energy.

The measure was taken to motivate those interested in investing in solar energy. Whatever they produce in five years, they will not have to pay taxes to the Government.

The move is supported by other measures taken by Government in the Second Republic; notably the duty-free import of solar energy production equipment.

It is undoubtedly clear that the world is in the middle of a profound energy transition, which calls for everyone to be on the deck to support the urgent migration to renewable forms of energy.

The transition will only be made possible by political will at country level supported by visionaries who would want to be remembered for creating an energy legacy, not only in Africa, but beyond.

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