The African continent is endowed with enormous renewable energy prospects, varying in type across diverse geographical expanses. To further harness this burgeoning potential, the East African Regional Office of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS) has installed a 25 Kilowatt hybrid system to cover up to 90% of its power needs from solar energy. The RLS is dedicated to contribute to sustainable and democratized alternatives for economic and social development in the East African region.
The organisation’s motivation for solar energy is driven by the desire to replace unsustainable energy sources with more ecological renewable energy options that contribute to healthy working and living environments. Currently, the office monthly energy charges have dropped by 81% to a low of Euro 57 from Euro 300 before the installation. Additionally, the diesel powered generator has not been used since its installation in December 2017, saving money and cutting down on pollution emission.
RLS’s ambitions for clean energy have led to numerous engagements with key stakeholders in Tanzania discussing questions about energy democracy. The engagements have been motivated by organisation’s desire to contribute to finding solutions to nagging energy efficiency and green economy questions such as: What are the feasible alternatives to sustainable renewable energy?, Who should spearhead the alternatives?, How should these alternatives be financed?, and What legislation and regulatory framework is needed to achieve these alternatives?
Tanzania has acknowledged policies for the promotion of renewable energy sources over the past decade. Consequently, the Tanzanian photovoltaic (PV) market is gradually developing in a way that the country is now reaching a stage where domestic demand sustains the solar industry. Discussions about developing an appropriate energy mix in rural electrification is gaining traction as the costs of connecting rural communities to the grid remain high. Incorporating use of solar energy will be vital to improving delivery of health services, equitable access to education and opening-up opportunities in agriculture. Some of the targeted sectors in agriculture for modernization and value addition include grain milling, farm irrigation, live stock development and fish farming.
The extension of the hours for available light is particularly important for women who can take on extra commercial activities like making handicrafts and also aid children to have extra hours for studying. Furthermore, transfer of skills in marketing, installation and maintenance of solar systems has a huge potential in employment generation for both Tanzania’s rural and urban workforce.
Trends show that there exists a substantial potential for cumulative use of clean energy technologies across the country but this is being constrained by numerous obstacles including legal and regulatory frameworks which have often remained unpredictable, government preference for large-sized energy projects, insufficient entrepreneurial and end-user knowledge and relatively high start-up costs among others. The chief engineer for the RLS office installation, Dr. Olaf Fleck, from SUNSET SOLAR based in Adelsdorf, Northern Bavaria, Germany, noted that Africa has a lot of potential and is becoming a major market for their products. He, however, noted that Tanzania needs to do more towards controlling the quality of solar technology coming into the country, and exempting VAT on solar technology and associated local services to build local capacity and absorb technological spillovers.
On the other hand, whereas the most common application of photovoltaic technology is still off-grid in Tanzania, an increasing number of solar installations are currently on-grid or "grid-tied”. Therefore, Tanzania and other countries in the region need to consider legalising net-metering to counteract electricity shortages and contribute to economic development. For example, the installation at the RLS office produces more energy beyond the needs of the entire office during the day and the surplus could be easily fed into the public grid. However, this is limited by nascent national solar strategies and legal obstacles relating to net-metering.
RLS believes in the decentralisation of energy generation through bottom–up approaches particularly the inclusion of communities through participatory mechanisms, capacity-building for both entrepreneurs and end-users, use of modern sustainable technologies and improving delivery systems.
Tanzania like other countries of the region is slowly moving towards developing their renewable energy potential principally through National Energy Plans (NEPs) that include different targets for how much renewable energy should contribute to the energy mix. In this regard, the Sustainable Energy Solutions in East Africa report published by Friends of the Earth Norway urges governments in the region to develop functioning energy markets and adopt responsive national policies and procedures. It suggests policies that integrate green energy-related financial incentives and tax exemptions to stimulate public-private partnerships in energy generation, supply and consumption like consumer credits among others.
In addition, there is the need to take into account local variations in energy planning to adapt the energy solutions to the local conditions by involving communities through a democratic participatory process.
Kasirye Samuel is a Programme Manager at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung – East African Regional Office