Solar Energy: Africa's Second Liberation. (Feature)

By Osei, Kwabena | New African, July 2003 | Go to article overview

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. …

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