October 5

How to Mobilize the Namibian Masses for Solar?


Something is happening outside Namibia which is of extreme relevance for our country! It reminds me of the 1960ies and the beginning of the liberation struggle. Starting from Ghana the African winds of change were noticed in Namibia and motivated a number of visionary people to spearhead a movement for change inside Namibia. This happened at a time when the chances for change were not looking very promising.

In terms of Renewable Energy (RE) a lot is going on in other parts of the world while Namibia is still seeking relief by approaching the old centralized methods of power provision: the Anixas oil-based generator and the plans for a coal-based base-load power station, which constitutes an investment for the next 40 years, are just examples for this.

But what happens if the price of oil doubles within the next 5 years, a scenario which is more likely to happen than not to happen? Since the prices of fossil fuels are interlinked this would stall Namibia’s development, without any “Plan B” in store from our leaders.

This is why those convinced about the urgency to change towards decentralized RE have the plight to learn from earlier examples of successful mass mobilization in order to achieve this goal. How do we make this change a national priority?

In most countries the utilities are seen as part of state power, empowering governments to supply its citizens in terms of electricity, fuel and water etc. The case of nuclear power, which can never be developed without government’s involvement in terms of financing and standing in for the risks, this is particularly true. Until Fukushima, nuclear power contributed to state power; now it became more a universal example for “states’ helplessness” and people are pressing to “proceed from nuclear non-proliferation to solar proliferation”. (Hermann Scheer)

Since fossil fuels are dwindling away while poisoning environment and our atmosphere plus the nuclear route leading us more and more into never-ending trouble and a minefield of unsolved problems (nuclear waste, unbearable risks), renewable energy is the “one-and-only” remaining route into a prosperous future.

This has to be understood and valued if Namibians want to reach year 2030 without being left in the dark. What can be done by all those who arrive at this conclusion to support the changes it takes?

Adopt the change for yourself, tell your neighbor and help to get the message spread across the country. Following the example of the successful liberation struggle, we have to ask ourselves about the strategy necessary. So who is to address? If we want to enter a “Solar Age” we have to educate and mobilize those who are going to live this stretch of open-ended future: the Youth of Namibia would be a foremost addressee to be introduced to renewable energy as our national resource with the higher societal and economic value. Renewable Energy allows much more local job involvement compared with “bought-in” fossil energy.

In order to reach the youth we have to reach the parents, who are being actively involved in our democracy. While reaching this part of the society, we are also reaching indirectly the commercial and the political sectors. Convinced citizens will buy solar technologies and they will support those politicians who opt for renewable energy as the only viable route for Namibia. The orientation should look nationally and internationally for support: yes, like during the liberation struggle we will require international support if we feel that the proceeds inside the country are too sluggish. The media again have to be involved the same way “the nambian” newspaper had been instrumental informing the country about up-coming changes.

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Time frame: I can imagine that a number of readers would generally support my case but they would come up with a capital BUT: all this would be still too early. To them I want to argue: changing our national energy system will take some 30 years. Looking at Windhoek’s Van-Eck coal power station which has been built during the early 1970ies still being operational, a coal power station at Walvis Bay we would bind us to coal power until 2050. Thus the risk of a stranded investment becomes immediately obvious.

So “how do we start in our own backyard”? Yes, we need examples. I would not opt for the coal power station at Walvis Bay but – as a first measure – I would complement the brand-new 22.5 MW Anixas oil power station with a 22.5 MW of Photovoltaic (PV) generation field. In this way this oil-based generator would have to run only once the sun is not available.

The Diesel machines would last several times longer and NamPower could study the usefulness of solar power within their network. For the first time we would make use of an indigenous resource for generating grid electricity (Ruacana Hydro also makes use of RE, but the water comes from Angola!). It would also make sense financially: While the Anixas power station produces expensive electricity accompanied by a lot of carbon dioxide and toxic exhaust, a 22.5 MWp PV system would generate per year 42.75 GWh of clean electricity at about N$1.6/kWh – for the next 25 years (own calculations), without much need for maintenance. 42.75 GWh means that about 1.2% of Namibia’s current electricity requirements would be solar-based. The Anixas station had a price tag of N$375 million, still requiring fuel and maintenance while the solar power station would cost N$480 million, not requiring fuel and being virtually maintenance free.

This – for a start – would help us to lead by example. I do not want to underestimate the already existing pioneering achievements like solar power for Tsumkwe and what has been achieved so far when it comes to energy efficiency (EE) or to the compulsory introduction of solar water heating (SWH) systems for government buildings. But only continued “leading by example” allows mobilizing the Namibian Masses and will remain a strength necessary to prosper in approaching year 2030.

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