Sunday, August 13, 2017

CROSS ROADS : Is solar power Tanzania’s new gold?

 

By Saumu Jumanne saumu.j@gmail.com

Solar power dominates rural Tanzania was the verdict of a report released last year by the National Bureau of Statistics and the Rural Energy Agency.

The report titled “The Energy Access Situation Report (2016)” it indicated that in Tanzania Mainland, solar power is leading by nearly 65 per cent (connected households) in rural areas compared to electricity from the national grid 34.5 per cent.

According to the same report, about 24.7 per cent of households that have access to electricity also use solar energy. This is good news considering that solar is clean energy, and in the long run it is cheaper than other available sources of energy. It is also readily available in all parts of the country, such that we can call it a universal resource, which every Tanzanian can be able to easily tap.

With political will, it is possible to make almost every house in Tanzania have solar as source of energy, which would greatly leave the national grid power for use by heavy duty industries.

It’s intriguing that we struggle so much to connect rural areas with the national grids at a high prices, places where no factories will be build, and what is needed is just power for domestic consumption. Yet, those places can perfectly do with solar for domestic consumptions.

The other day, I read in the worldbank.org that “Tanzania holds immense potential in solar and wind power.” This is per an energy mapping study covered 12 countries. “The study finds that the country has solar resources equivalent to Spain’s and its potential for wind power exceeds that of the US state of California,” notes the story. Indeed this is a huge potential.

In as far as empowering the people is concerned the most remarkable thing about solar is that it does not require any government assistance. What the government needs to do is to create favourable business environment. If we have a new policy to act as a catalyst of greater adoption of the solar energy, it would be a game changer for the rural and urban dwellers.

According to World Bank, it could power rural water pumps, which would mean greater food security and secured business opportunities for farmers. For education, it would mean our children no longer using kerosene lantern for learning at night. It has been known for a long time that kerosene use for lighting is dangerous and has adverse effect to health and environment. Some experts hold that breathing kerosene fumes is a major cause of lung cancer in developing nations.

According to bloomberg.com, China, which is an industrial giant, is adding solar power at a record pace and is the largest market in the world for solar panels. India has been working hard to use solar to light up 300 million Indians living without electricity.

In 2015, the then President Jakaya Kikwete announced that about 1 million Tanzanians would be able to get reliable solar electricity by 2017. I am not sure what happened to this project. Methinks it was a great stride in the nation’s endeavours to get off the national grid power solutions. If solar and wind potential for generating electricity was to be harnessed, it could be our new gold for the nation.

Can you imagine of every home having cheap solar power? Can you imagine of solar plants driving millions of cottage industries throughout Tanzania? It would mean a great competitive advantage in production of goods for sale.

High cost of power has been one of the Achilles heels in making our industries competitive. Our potential for solar is so great such that, if developed fully, it can be able to considerably feed the national grid. In the long run, it would bring down the cost of doing business in Tanzania. Don’t we all want this?

Saumu Jumanne is an assistant lecturer, Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE)

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