European Solutions for African Problems – the Case of Renewable Energy

by Conrad Roedern

Living and working in Namibia I am sometimes reminded of my German roots, asking myself if there is something helpful to learn in terms of renewable energy. In how far can the structural development of the industrialised countries set an example for Namibia?

European solutions for African problems? At least I can see some paradigm shift. Is it realistic to look for increased productivity based only on the quest for capital-intense technology. Can cheap energy combined with an abundance of automation really solve the problems in a country with unemployment as high as 52%? If the divide between rich and poor gets wider in the industrialised countries by the day, what impact will it have on Namibia, a country already known to be one with the most skew distribution of income and wealth?

But within the last 10 years Germany began with re-structuring of the energy sector, the biggest sector within the industrialised economies. The country’s parliament prescribed two measures for change:

a) a law (the “EEG”) that gives priority to the use of renewable energy (RE)
b) a complete phase-out of nuclear power generation.

So let us take a look what actual changes have been brought about by these decisions. For the energy sector we can see a dynamic process being been kicked off which influenced other countries as well. Strong results can be found when it comes to:

1. shifting to decentralised power generation capacity
2. more free-market economy due to alternatives to monopolistic structures
3. fast-track implementation of renewable energy.
4. ease to the environment through the use of RE 5. locally generated wealth by avoiding fuel imports
6. job opportunities within small and medium enterprises
7. exporting RE products or manufacturing equipment

The current situation in Germany

I want to shed some light to what extend this new orientation can serve as an example for Namibia. The expansion of all mature RE provision showed a strong upward trend.

I limited myself to an update on Solar and Wind electricity generation which meanwhile resulted to meaningful contributions towards Germany’s 2009 electricity demand of 550 Tera Watt Hours (TWh). To put it into perspective:

In 2009 Germany produced almost double of the entire Namibian electricity demand (3.6TWh) with its Solar PV feed in systems. And had these systems been producing under the Namibian Sun it would have been 4 times of Namibia’s requirements.

Most interesting is the trend in growth. If Germany can sustain the current pace in growth it would mean that by 2020 Solar will contribute 270TWh and Wind 2050TWh, together already 94% of current demand.

This dynamics kicked off in 2000 when the renewable energy act (EEG) had been approved by the German Parliament. 47 counties have followed in adopting the “EEG-approach”.

graph

Diagram 1 and 2: Growth of Electricity Production under the German feed-in law for PV-Solar (1) and Wind (2) NB: It is interesting to note that due to a weak wind resource in 2009, production fell below the 2008 figure although more capacity had been installed. Data sourced: Wikipedia for PV-Solar and “Bundesverband Windenergie e. V.”

The situation of Namibia

The resource potential for RE in Namibia exceeds that of Germany considerably. Solar Radiation occurs twice as much! On top we find Namibia sparsely populated with most stretches of desert landscape.

According to the 2005 “Rural Electricity Distribution Master Plan” there one 5885 localities listed of which 3886 are not earmarked for grid connection within the next 20 years.

When it comes to electricity Namibia struggles in terms of generation and distribution. Only for cities and large industries grid electricity provides an economical solution. Even within the commercial farming areas the distance between clients is about 6km, covered by costly medium voltage lines which require maintenance and have to be replaced every 20 to 25 years.

So – should Namibia opt for grid power or should it adopt the decentralized roll – out? If one looks at Namibia’s favourable preconditions and takes the more externalized benefits mentioned earlier into account the answer becomes clear:
Decentralized RE is first choice for Namibia’s off-grid areas. On-grid we will see feed-in systems and wind parks booming, once the question of tariffs for the clean green energy is answered. Here the Namibian Parliament should move and decide asap!

REIAoN

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