The energy is in you
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CTA. 2002. The energy is in you. Spore 100. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47602
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore100.pdf
Renewable energy has become mainstream. The weird and wacky appliances of the seventies now mean big business and big opportunities for small farmers and small processors. Whatever next?At the mouth of the port of Dakar in Senegal, a kilometre or...
Renewable energy has become mainstream. The weird and wacky appliances of the seventies now mean big business and big opportunities for small farmers and small processors. Whatever next? At the mouth of the port of Dakar in Senegal, a kilometre or two off the coast, stands one of Africa s new landmarks: a navigation light. Standing nobly above the waves, on a firm concrete mast, it guides ships around a rocky bank on their port side, and on past the island of Gorée, an old African landmark of the former slave trade, on their starboard. Both landmarks have etched their place in history, one chillingly and shamefully, the light for being powered by batteries fed by the sloping solar panels at the top of the mast. Even the marks left by seagulls in transit, themselves a form of biomass, cannot long hinder the sun s rays from being caught by the panels. Similar new landmarks are in place in more than half of Africa s 400,000 villages, and in most of those of the Pacific and the Caribbean. They are now at the forefront of what, two decades ago, was just another dream in the complex area of rural electrification. Then, they lay like discarded toys in a pile of broken dreams that came to be known as a technology graveyard , solar panels alongside ill-sited windmills. Now, times have changed, and while the sun and the wind were patiently waiting, the engineers have climbed their learning curve and simplified maintenance, and costs have fallen. Solar panels and well-sited wind pumps stand as a symbol of appropriate renewable energies, pointing, like those coastal navigation lights, a relatively sure way towards affordable energy supply in rural areas. Energy is the key Energy. It is in energy that we can find the key to development, according to many of those who search for the way to heave a society onto a virtuous spiral of progress. Others will say it is in education and the book. Or in health and nutrition, to tend and feed the body and mind. Or transport and trade, to get closer to markets and better income. Or digital technology, to get the right information. None of these options, and they each have their impassioned proponents, can work without energy. Energy is the light for extended learning and training time; the healthier heat for cooking; the cooling for perishable crops, food and medicine; the pumping for irrigation. It is in the processing and storage of products that reliable energy supply can add the most value to agricultural production. Of course, this is not to belittle the need for energy in the field. In water pumping, more use can be made of wind and solar energy. In mechanised cultivation, the need is for dependable access to fuel and, if possible, to shift away from fossil fuels. Yet in most ACP countries the localised production of alternatives to petrol and diesel, such as ethanol distilled from sugar cane, is still even farther away from the drawing board than the planner is from the field. Applications of renewable energy in agricultural processing come in two forms: direct, and through generated electricity. The use of solar dryers for processing fruit and vegetables is now standard practice in most villages; the ubiquitous towers of trays of produce are ventilated by the convection of warm air, which can be boosted by small solar-powered fans. Similarly, panels of water-filled collectors absorb solar radiation, even on cloudy days, to warm up water for cooking and cleaning, reducing the need for wood or charcoal use in stoves. And, of course, there are the infamous improved small stoves, known as jikos in eastern Africa, or ban uk suf in Senegal, which have noticeably reduced both wood consumption and unhealthy smoke for millions of households and small food processors. Grappling with the grid There is, though, no real alternative to the use of electricity, and here there are many mountains to climb, perhaps literally, before rural supply is a common feature in most villages. In Uganda, for example, less than 1% of the rural population is connected to the national grid, reflecting the fact that extensive rural grid connection is hindered by high, uneconomical cost. This barrier, says a recent government report, has led to increased self-electrification in rural areas, with people using diesel-powered generators and, increasingly, solar photovoltaic collectors. Such scenarios are known in most ACP countries more than 40 use traditional fuels (mainly wood) for more than three-quarters of their fuel consumption, according to extensive data provided by UNDP s Human Development Report 2002. In recent years, many technical advances have been made in the extension of national electricity grids, in particular on overcoming the tremendous losses of power over transmission lines several hundred kilometres long. Grids are also being linked, one to another, so that they can share electricity. A massive project is currently underway to share power from the Manantali hydro-electricity dam in Mali with Senegal and Mauritania. Using national grids is not, frankly, an option in most rural electrification programmes. They need to be based mainly on the generation of electricity at the local level, in stand-alone systems or isolated grid mini-systems serving a locality. In these, power can be generated from such sources as sugar mills; bagasse is heavily used in, for example, Jamaica, Mauritius and South Africa. Other agricultural wastes, such as rice husks or coffee shells, can also be used. In Uganda, isolated systems will serve relatively concentrated areas with a potential for use by rural enterprises, providing a model for better serving market towns. Their source of power will be mainly from micro-hydro plants, a growing sector in the field of renewables. Creating demand In those dispersed areas where isolated grid systems are not viable, many countries are starting to opt for individual and institutional solar photovoltaic systems. Clinics, schools, guesthouses and small workshops, as well as better-endowed individuals, are shifting towards solar-powered buildings and homes. To really achieve a critical mass of demand, these steps require several support mechanisms: credit to help purchasers, and loans or grants to subsidise the initial cost for local manufacturers. These are exactly the same mechanisms as were used 20 years in Europe to get solar energy off the ground, as it were. And exactly the same as were used to ensure the widespread dissemination of improved wood-burning stoves. Third time lucky, they must be thinking in the ACP solar sector. And, yes, these steps are now being taken in a positive way. The recent launch of the African Rural Energy Enterprise Development (see Links,) is an example of how public-private partnerships are being developed to yank up the production of equipment for affordable energy generation or efficient consumption. It is this business-like approach which will ultimately determine whether the slogan power to the people also works for rural communities. If the new Global Environment Facility of the UN system, due to emerge in early September 2002 from the World Summit on Sustainable Development, is looking for a priority area to work in, alongside changes in consumption in the industrial world, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars, cows, rice paddies and factories, then it is in rural electrification. Maybe the future that only visionaries can see, 30 years from now, is full of new forms of electricity generation, such as covering massive desert areas in ACP countries and elsewhere with vast arrays of solar collectors. In the meantime, if the world cannot bring power to the rural people, then at least help them make it themselves. Sustainably. [caption to illustrations] Home is where the hearth is, and those solar cookers of the 1960s never did win many hearts. Anyway, with solar panels on the roof, a village centre can light, wash and cool itself. [caption to illustrations] Sun-dried fruits boost local markets, andwindpumps raise water and income