Solar Energy: Africa's Second Liberation. (Feature)
Osei, Kwabena, New African
After the "first liberation" of political independence, the "second liberation" of Africa will come through the use of solar energy to power our homes and industries. Imagine a USA or Europe without electricity. But that is what Africa currently is -- 85% of Africans still live in rural areas and most of them have no electricity And yet, Africa gets 365 days of splendid sunshine a year. From this month, New African is starting a major series on solar energy to bring awareness to Africa's neglected power. The series is written by the solar expert and engineer, Kwabena Osel (photo left).
For very obvious reasons, the powers that be who control the conventional generation of electricity have stymied the promotion of solar energy because its widespread use is deemed as bad news for the fossil fuel industry. But Africa can no longer play "their" game if we are to pull ourselves out of poverty. We have to start now by utilising the vast amount of solar energy that hits the continent's surface each year.
The Sun should be the future energy powerhouse if the continent is to attain a better and meaningful development that will benefit the people as well as the environment. The beauty of it all could be the electrification of our towns and villages with energy from the Sun.
The average solar power received on the Earth's surface is 1.2x1017 W. This means that the energy supply from the Sun hitting the Earth in an hour can meet the total energy consumption on Earth for a whole year. No wonder, the Sun has been worshipped as a life-giver to our planet since ancient times.
Most of the energy we use today originates from the Sun. This energy has been absorbed by biological organisms over millions of years.
In fact, the energy from the Sun is converted naturally into various forms. For example, wave energy is a result of the interaction between the convection-driven winds and the surface of the sea. Biological energy (biomass energy) is also stored in living organisms by the process of photosynthesis.
These energy forms are available as renewable resources because of their regular replacement on a daily, or even hourly, basis. On the other hand, fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), although laid down effectively as biomass, take millions of years to form and needs to be regarded as finite or non-renewable resources.
Africa can no longer afford to depend heavily on these non-renewable energy resources, which are not only harmful to the environment, but also expensive to generate. If solar power is to be utilised as the main source of energy in Africa, in the long run, it will work out much cheaper than gas, coal, oil, etc, and it will also reduce the continent's dependency on foreign aid.
The colonisation of Africa brought about the adaptation of a lifestyle similar to that of the colonial masters and has made us dependent. We should liberate ourselves from this kind of dependency by adopting a new way of development.
At the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, governments across the world signed an agreement known as "Agenda 21". This required national governments to address sustainable development issues. Agenda 21 addresses the serious environmental problems of today and also aims at preparing the world for the challenges of the next century. It reflects a global agreement and political commitment at the highest level on development and environment integration.
Its successful implementation is first and foremost the responsibility of governments, and African countries. As a first step, we can begin to utilise solar energy in support of Agenda 21.
In September 1996, a World Solar Summit was held in Harare, Zimbabwe, that focussed on solar power as a future energy resource. Representatives from 100 countries attending the Summit, recognised, among others, that energy was essential to the development of all countries, and that there was the need to provide enough energy services at a reasonable cost. There was also the need, they agreed, to increase access to energy in developing countries in order to meet the expanding needs in ways that minimised environmental degradation and risks.
The Summit was organised at the initiative of UNESCO, in collaboration with other international organisations and institutions. The world recognised, at that Summit, the significance of the role that solar power should play in the provision of energy for the wellbeing of mankind. But not much has been done since the Summit.
Equally, when solar energy came up on the agenda of the UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg last year, with a proposal to increase solar power use to 10% of all global energy consumption, the powers that be (particularly USA and the Arab oil producers), shot the proposal down because they saw it as bad news for the oil industry.
But Africa cannot afford to play the waiting game. Africa receives a huge amount of solar energy each year, yet over 80% of our people who live in rural areas do not have electricity in their homes. The amount of solar energy that hits the continent's surface each year is more than five times the total energy currently consumed on the continent.
I will be calling on African leaders and captains of industry, in this series, to utilise this vast amount of free energy for the benefit of our people and environment. If we do so, it will undoubtedly lead to the "second liberation" of our continent.
Imagine a USA or Europe where 80% of the people have no electricity. Imagine the quality of life they would have.
Imagine the quality of life the 80% of Africans without electricity now have! And how liberating it would be, for them to have electricity in their homes, to give them light at night, to power their computers, their radio and TV sets, their telephones, their cookers, fridges and deep-freezers, their washing machines and blenders, and all the other gadgets of modern life that city dwellers rake for granted.
For example, only 40% of the population of Ghana have access to electricity because the cost of transporting conventional electricity (through cables and pylons), makes it less cost-effective for the government to do so.
Therefore, in most cases, rural people are deprived of the right of access to electricity, despite the fact that energy availability both in terms of quantity and quality is a key determinant of the economic productivity of most human systems.
Solar-generated electricity can "liberate" these people and make electricity accessible to all. The best thing about solar-generated electricity is that it is flexible, thus it can be installed anywhere the Sun shines.
The major economic and environmental challenges facing Africa today need positive and sustainable responses. We should adopt technological innovations that rake into account the local environment and human circumstances.
Using solar energy in Africa will reduce most of the problems the continent is facing today The cost of electricity will be cheaper for the ordinary African. Everybody will have access to electricity and benefit from energy services.
Today, solar-generated electricity serves people living in the most isolated spots in Europe, America and elsewhere in the developed world even though there is limited sunshine in these areas (see story on p66).
Solar energy is now generating electricity for refrigerators for vaccine storage, pumping water for irrigation, lighting at nighttime, and charging batteries. Apart from generating electricity, solar energy can be used to produce hot water for our homes and hospitals, and with careful design of our buildings, solar energy can assist in creating a cool indoor climate.
Solar energy is even used to power trains and cars (though on a limited basis). Imagine where space exploration will be without solar energy. Imagine the communication and other satellites in space. Imagine the space crafts on their way to Mars and other far-flung planets and galaxies. Where would they be without solar energy? Like the Europeans who are able to utilise snow for a common purpose, Africans should also use the Sun's energy profitably The lack of street lights and traffic lights in most African cities can remarkably be improved. Solar-powered streetlight will be ideal for illuminating streets, walkways, etc. This will help to make the streets safer at night.
Kerosene lanterns can be replaced by solar lanterns. Engineers at the solar laboratory of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana, have developed a solar lantern using the same mechanism as the old kerosene lantern, except that the wick has been replaced by bulbs and the kerosene has been replaced by batteries that can be charged during the day by a solar panel.
The Ghana government or industry can financially support initiatives such as these, so that the lanterns can be mass-produced and made available at an affordable price.
Africa should nor create the same problems (like CO2-emission, oil-spill and waste problem) as Western "civilisation" has brought upon us all, In our days of development, the people of Africa should learn from these mistakes by depending less on imported technologies, majority of which are not ideal for us.
For example, refrigerators that are imported into Africa usually have a thermal insulation thickness that is nor suitable for the high ambient temperature of the continent, and therefore a lot of electricity is wasted. We must begin to develop and use technologies that are suitable for us and our environment.
The international community must support sustainable development in Africa by realising the joint implementation projects proposed by the Kyoto Protocol. The problems of the world (such as poverty, famine and climatic changes) are inter-linked. In tackling them, we must find integrated solutions, but not at the expense of the future generation.
It might seem like a huge task, but if governments throughout the world rake small steps towards the use of renewable energy, we can help to reduce local, national and global environmental problems.
One of the most important things Africans have to learn on their journey towards sustainability is that mote progress is made if we concentrate on dialogue rather than debate, and seek integrated solutions. Sustainability is nor a solitary pursuit. Iris more effective if it is a collaborative effort.
Encouraging more people to join the solar energy clan means, letting more people know that solar power technologies are right here tight now. It means using the media to broadcast how solar energy is not just reserved for pocket calculators and space research, but also far refrigerators, TVs, computers and much more.
Encouraging solar technologies will reduce cost and will also help to leave behind a much better environment far our future generations.
At the moment, the cost of solar systems (solar heaters, PV-systems, solar-box cookers etc) might be too high for the ordinary African, but it is because we don't engage ourselves in mass-producing them. If we commit ourselves to fully utilise the free energy from the Sun, the prices of these systems will, in the long run, be affordable. It will benefit the people of the continent and will make us less dependent on fossil fuels, which are known to be costly as well as harmful to the environment.
(In the next instalment, we will look at PV or photovoltaic systems. We will identify the various components and will give short descriptions of each component. We will also examine the sizing of PV-systems for houses (with particular loads) by considering the solar radiation for the sites. The installation process, effectiveness, and efficiency ofsolarpanels will also be focused on).…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Solar Energy: Africa's Second Liberation. (Feature). Contributors: Osei, Kwabena - Author. Magazine title: New African. Publication date: July 2003. Page number: 40+. © 2005 IC Publications Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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