Solar power the way to go


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ZIMBABWE – The power outages that most suburbs in Harare are experiencing have negatively impacted on many domestic routines.
Many homes have drastically changed how they do their chores to accommodate the times they have electricity, which sometimes can be around midnight.I recently recieved a message from one of my neighbours at around midnight telling me she and her husband were up ironing clothes that had piled up for over two weeks.

These power outages have also adversely affected children studying for their “O” and “A” level exams because they hardly have proper sleep, as they have to get up when power is restored so they revise their work.

One teenager says this has resulted in her dozing in class because she is awake until around 3 am and by the time she is set for school at 7:30am, her body would be too tired.

This week, most areas had no power for between two to three days and the damage is just too much. With many people having lost their jobs following the recent Supreme Court ruling that allowed employers to terminate contracts by giving three months notices, some have resorted to chicken rearing.

The chickens, mainly broilers mature at six weeks, after which they are slaughtered and placed in chest freezers in homes.
I saw a woman throwing away stale chickens that had defrosted due to the power cuts that lasted nearly four days, in a pit she had dug at some open land near the Westgate area.

She said she had lost at least 50 chickens, which would have earned her at least $300 adding that she was not sure if she would continue in that line of business.

There are many other people conducting businesses in their backyards like dressmaking, baking and other catering businesses that are reliant on electricity.

Some people have argued that these people should resort to generators and solar power, but we all know that not everyone can afford these gadgets.

I tried baking a cake sometime last week and power went off before the cake had baked. I was so frustrated because it now seems as though these power cuts are random and the result is that you just cannot plan your day, meals and anything else. I watched television until about 4am on Wednesday night after realising that I had not watched TV in weeks. The DSTV subscriptions are due soon before I have even watched any programmes.

Power shortages were discussed about two decades ago when a conference on solar energy was held at the Harare International Conference Centre, where Zimbabwe was told to brace for serious electricity shortfalls in years to come, but recommendations to implement this plan were not taken seriously.

Then, power was not a major problem, but is it not the duty of the leadership to plan in advance based on expert advice because when a country goes for days without power for too long, that becomes a serious national security issue?

It would be interesting to find out from the Zimbabwe Republic Police how many murders, thefts and robberies take place whenever there is a power cut at night.

Some housing alarm systems like electric fences stop working after 24 hours without power and with no back up, this leaves certain households vulnerable to burglaries.

It is amazing how dependent we all are on electricity and would never have imagined that Zimbabwe would suffer such power deficits.

Zesa initially gave excuses of lack of foreign currency when power outages intensified over 10 years ago, but Zimbabwe now uses the US dollar as legal tender and yet the situation has worsened.

Now we are being told that water levels at Lake Kariba have gone down and power generation has been compromised in both Zambia and Zimbabwe. But this matter was discussed at the conference I mentioned earlier. Why did our political leaders not take this advice seriously and start rolling out solar panels to all households for a fee?

Zimbabwe has a natural resource called the sun that is available throughout the year and solar energy is no doubt the only way to go.

The situation has been exacerbated by climate change, which is affecting the entire globe because the earth is becoming warmer and warmer.

As the earth becomes warmer, rivers are drying and hence hydro power generation will soon become a thing of the past.

Recently, US President Barack Obama visited Alaska in the north of the Arctic Circle, where he saw ice flowing from mountains into pools of water, a signal that climate change has taken toll on the environment. The Artic Circle is all ice the whole year, but the situation has changed drastically and it is imperative for world leaders to come up with lasting solutions to this problem.

In remarks that bordered on the apocalyptic, Obama warned that the effects of global warming that have hit the Arctic the hardest would soon engulf the world — submerging entire countries, annihilating cities and leaving fields barren — unless more was done to reduce emissions. Four times in a 24-minute speech, he repeated his assertion that “we’re not acting fast enough”.

Yes, we are not acting fast enough. Generators cannot be used for over eight hours because they are too noisy and also expensive to run. And how many people can afford generators given the shocking unemployment levels in Zimbabwe at the moment?
And can you imagine the noise pollution we would experience if each household purchased a generator.

I experienced this in Lagos, Nigeria nearly 20 years ago when the nights suddenly became noisy because of generators that were switched on when there were power cuts. The noise was so bad that you could hardly hear what was being said on television. But sources tell me the situation has drastically improved because that country has resorted to other energy sources.

Solar energy is ozone friendly, as it does not emit gasses like generators do, it is cheaper, although may be initially expensive to set up, but this energy may just save lots of foreign currency Zimbabwe is spending on power imports.

A drive along Airport Road in Harare is such a spectacle at night because the bright street lighting along the highway is solar powered. A local mobile company is making a killing out of solar lamps that brighten our homes, which I am told at less than half the cost of electricity. Why can’t the government import these for the masses?

Waking up at ungodly hours to do domestic chores is stressful because it distorts the times that we are supposed to be alert doing productive work to develop this country.

I think Zesa has lost value to its customers. But the bottom line is that we need to save our environment as a matter of urgency. The dwindling water supplies at Lake Kariba are a sure sign that we are headed for a future with no electricity.

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