Solar energy: Panacea to Botswana’s power woes?
With an average of 285 days of sunshine a year, Botswana is a country where solar power can technically flourish. According to the department of Meteorological Services, daily average sunshine duration ranges from 9.9 hours in summer to 8.2 hours in winter. Two or more consecutive cloudy days are uncommon, and far between. This makes solar an energy source of vast potential, and ideal for both urban and rural areas on the country, especially during these times of serious power shortage. In an act of recognition and confirmation of this potential, the Botswana Energy Master Plan was prepared for the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources committing to the provision of basic household needs to all strata of society.
This commitment extends to the provision of these households’ energy needs. Renewable energy has been identified as the most appropriate source of affordable, convenient and safe energy. In addition, the Botswana government through its partnership with its French counterpart signed a power deal where the utility companies Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) and France’s Electricite de France (EDF) will help in providing solar power to remote areas that are out of the power grid. As a result, the BPC Lesedi’s rural solar electrification project, supported by EDF, was officially launched in 2011. BPC Lesedi (Pty) Ltd was formed in 2008 for the purpose of rolling out the Renewable Energy-based Rural Electrification Project. The project is a collaborative effort between the government of Botswana, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
A key output of this strategy is the provision of basic energy services using solar photovoltaics (PVs) and energy-efficient cooking appliances. Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaics (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP). Concentrated solar power systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. Photovoltaics convert light into electric current using the photoelectric effect. Solar power is an energy source that requires no burning, is so clean that, unlike coal it leaves no waste. Better still, coming from the sun, it cannot run out.
Through a partnership with the Japanese government, a multi-million Pula project is underway to build a 1.3 mega-watt solar power station. The 1.3 MW power station, will be connected to the national grid, and serve some parts of Gaborone to augment the power supply. The project is being implemented through utility company Botswana Power Corporation and some Japanese companies that include Japan International Corporation System, Itochu Corporation (main contractor), Huji Furukawa Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd.According to Professor Pushpendra Jain from the Department of Physics, and Centre of Study in Renewable and Sustainable Energy (CSRSE) at the University of Botswana (UB), in recent years, demand of electricity amongst the SAPP (Southern African Power Pool) countries has been exceeding the installed generation capacity. He said this has posed a threat of energy security for Botswana which is the largest importer of electricity form South Africa. He however said while the problem is being addressed, it will take time to put the measures in place, noting that power deficit shall continue to grow.
He emphasized that solar energy has a vast potential in Botswana which can ease the energy deficit adding that it is also the green energy. Despite its vast potential, Professor Jain indicated that most of its use is limited to solar water heating. He said some of the reasons are, among others, high cost of devices, and lack of affordable financing schemes. Lack of awareness and campaign to promote solar as a green, free energy.Most traders that deal in solar panels have hailed solar energy appliances, describing them as cost-effective and hassle-free. Tshephang Lefakae, a sales representative at Solar Power, which is based at Broadhurst Industrial, said although it is good to use solar power, it is also advisable that people should not use any appliances on solar power since some consume more electricity.“We do not usually advise people to use those appliances with elements or motors,” she said.Lefakae noted that it is much cheaper when the solar panels are only used for lights or watching TV. She said an 80 watts solar panel costs P5000 and can operate three bedroom lights at the same time. She advised people to buy solar powered appliances when they use solar panels.A sales consultant at Intrawise World, Babonga Emang said they sell various solar equipment such as solar panels, charging regulators, inverters, maintenance free batteries and solar systems for fridges. She said most of the solar panels they sell range from 30 watts to 155 watts and costing from P700 to P4000. “When a person comes to get quotations for a complete solar system we recommend to them what appliances they should use with the solar power. We also have systems for boreholes,” said Emang.She encouraged people to use solar power saying that one does not have to pay bills at the end of the month, unlike when one is using electricity from one of the national grids. Intrawise specializes in the German-made Solar World brand. When used properly, she said the solar panels can last 25 years.
Another sales person, Kewagamang Botlhoko for Solar Electrical Products in G-West Industrial said solar energy is only expensive during installation. “You only spend once and after that you do not need to pay for anything,” she explains, adding that the battery is the one that has a short lifespan. They specialize on mono crystal and crystal panels which she said have a lifespan of 25 years.