Wind pumps are a typical sight in the vast landscape of Namibia. However, it is only recently that they have been recognised as instruments that can provide a renewable source of energy. The wind turns the wheel blades that set the pipes in motion that pump the water from the boreholes to feed large water basins. Brigitte Weidlich, (freelance journalist) sketches how Government and other instances support alternative renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
Renewable energies such as wind and solar power have become important factors since Namibian gained independence in 1990. Private companies and organisations focused on independent energy supplies for the tourism sector at remote lodges and tourism camps. The Namibian Government has given these renewable sources full recognition and afforded them equal status with conventional energy sources.
Solar-powered or photovoltaic devices feed waterholes at the world-famous Etosha National Park. Village clinics and schools far away from the national power grid receive electricity and warm water, thanks to off-grid solutions with solar and wind energy. Just two years ago a local company supplied Telecom Namibia with 3 060 photovoltaic panels for its ultra-phone project. In March 2003 a satellite reception station with an 80-m high tower and powered by a photovoltaic system was erected on the Gamsberg, 150 m km west of Windhoek, to service Namibia’s cellular communication network.
In as early as 1990 the newly created Ministry of Mines and Energy set up a Department for Renewable Energies. Sponsored by the German development aid agency GTZ, the Ministry de-signed and implemented promotional programmes for the use of solar and wind power in the country, particularly in rural areas. Affordable solutions for rural households to obtain electricity were worked on. A range of Solar Home Systems (SHS) was developed, the most basic one being a single solar panel feeding a battery supplying four lamps, a radio and a black & white television set. To make the SHS affordable, the EU and US donated money for a loan fund, so that rural people could buy such systems and pay them off over a few years.
Before this project was in place, local companies had to be found to design, standardise and make these home systems. One hundred technicians were trained to give a back-up service to the rural customers. Up to now over 600 SHSs have been installed in rural areas.
In parallel developments, NGOs were concerned about the depletion of vegetation for firewood. Solar cookers were designed in various shapes and forms. They are now manufactured by locals and sold in central northern Namibia, creating employment and income for the people.
The mid-nineties saw major changes in the electricity sector. A white paper on the Government’s energy policy released in 1998 states that the Namibian Government treats “renewable energies on an equal footing with other forms of energy when assessing their financial, economic and social costs.” At the same time, new and modern legislation for electricity was drafted, paving the way for independent power suppliers and erasing the monopoly of the state power utility, NamPower.
Preparatory workshops were held for local authorities to prepare them for the new concept of regional electricity distribution (RED) to be introduced in due course. Namibia will be divided into four geographical REDs, allowing for private-sector electricity distribution.
In 1996 wind measurements were taken at Walvis Bay and Lüderitz to test if a wind park was viable. Lüderitz was chosen as the best site with its wind speed of over six seconds per minute. The wind park is supposed to feed electricity into the national grid. Indian ex-perts came to Namibia and demonstrated how energy can be won from biomass plants. A few demo plants were constructed in the north and one just outside Windhoek on the farm of a well-known black empowerment businessperson.
By 2000, NamPower completed its own 20-year electrification plan for Namibia, the first such plan worldwide. It includes off-grid electrification solutions such as solar power for remote areas, in view of the fact that solar energy can be installed in a shorter time over a wider area than expanding the national grid at high cost, which also takes longer. About 2 200 localities in need of off-grid electrification were identified in the master plan.
In the same year the Electricity Act was passed in Parliament. It provides for, among others, the establishment of an Electricity Control Board (ECB) that gives equal status to renewable energies and stipulates the regulation of the electricity sector through the ECB, which approves and issues electricity licences to providers and distributors. Electricity generation, transmission and distribution are now seen as separate sectors, making it possible for green electricity from renewable sources by independent power producers to be sold to electricity distributors, including NamPower. In principle, any individual or company generating more (green) power than used for own consumption can sell it and feed it into the grid.
Photovoltaics help rural schools in Namibia to be connected to the Internet with the most modern means. Schoolnet, a donor-based organisation, has already provided hundreds of remote schools and some educational centres with computers. They are powered by solar panels. The most modern wireless technology via satellite link-ups and narrow-band radio networks allow the schools to surf the Internet and make use of e-mails as the quickest form of communication.
“A positive side effect is that a nearby bush clinic or health station can go to such a school and request the dispatch of an e-mail to its ministerial headquarters to order more medicine, for in-stance, or in case of emergencies,” says Conrad Roedern, who owns a company that manufactures solar systems, and owns Namibia’s only car driven entirely by electric power. “Renewable energies have made great strides in Namibia over the last few years, be it solar water pumps (quite a few models are designed and made locally), or customer-tailored solar power boxes for the mobile schools for the Himba children in Kaokoland. This is apart from the solar-powered water geysers for the Windhoek Vocational Training Centre, for instance.”
Equally pleased with developments is Hansjörg Müller, former GTZ adviser on renewable sources to the Ministry of Mines and Energy. “The policies are in place, sectors clearly defined and active steps for implementation have been taken. I am further highly impressed with the R3E Bureau, formerly REINNAM (Renewable Energy Information Network of Namibia) at the Ministry and now attached to the engineering department of the Polytechnic. The bureau deals with solar and wind energy concepts, is actively networking on regional and international level and provides a good database.”
Müller, now based in Beijing, came to Windhoek in March 2003 to attend the first regional wind-energy seminar in Namibia and to assess the GTZ-supported programme on renewable energies, which ended recently.
Renewable energy experts from Namibia will attend the World Wind Energy Conference in Cape Town November this year.
This article appeared in the 2003/4 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.