Home » Industry » Alternative Energy Sources Answer to Zim’s Energy Needs

Wood has been a source of energy globally since time immemorial. Forests which traditionally provided firewood have been “stripped naked” by people who indiscriminately cut down trees and do not bother to replace them.

Heavy extraction coupled with the increasing agricultural activities also threaten natural forests, which for long has been the source of firewood.

The coming in of plantation forests and other forms of energy brought a reprieve to the forests around the globe.

However, pressure on wood has remained high in third world nations because of alternative energy shortages and increasing population.

Increased agricultural activities and electricity shortages have also put more pressure on the country’s forests.

Zimbabwe’s forests have not been spared from the direct attack of the human energy and development needs.

The 2012 Census National Report confirms that 63 percent of Zimbabwe’s population relies on wood as the main source of energy for cooking and heating purposes.

This is a sad development if current efforts to conserve our natural environment are anything to go by.

According to the Census report, only 31 percent use electricity, a measly two percent opt for paraffin and less than one percent of the households use gas, coal and other forms of energy.

“Except for Harare and Bulawayo, the rest of the provinces had high proportions of households, almost 70 percent, using wood for cooking,” explained the report.

Mashonaland Central had 84,6, Mashonaland East 79,5, Mashonaland West 69,1, Matebeleland North 78,4, Matebeleland South 78,7, Midlands 70, 4, Manicaland 81,3 and Masvingo 82,2 percent people using wood.

While Zimbabwe has great potential in methane gas, coal and charcoal, the country has unfortunately failed to develop the energies hence the over-reliance on wood for domestic heating.

Environmentalists say this is unfortunate for a country seeking to reduce environmental destruction.

Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe spokesperson Ms Violet Makoto said the Census report findings were not surprising at all.

Infact, she says, both rural and urban communities’ are now relying more on wood energy.

This has contributed to the loss of forest cover in Zimbabwe.

“Many people have established illegal firewood poaching businesses to satisfy this growing need. Deforestation in Zimbabwe is estimated to be at the rate of 330 000 hectares annually with tobacco farming areas in Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West and parts of Mashonaland East being worst affected.

“Deforestation is a major driver of land degradation and negatively affects ecosystems, leading to biodiversity loss. It also is responsible for high rates of soil erosion, leading to the siltation of streams and rivers and the disruption of hydrological systems,” Ms Makoto said.

She added that the commission was working hard to create awareness on the importance of forest conservation. “We have various programmes like the Tobacco Wood Energy Program (TWEP) and the Woodland Management programmes in place and we also undertake campaigns that promote tree planting and forest conservation.

“We have had such programmes for years but our greatest challenge is changing people’s mindset. People still view forest resources as infinite and available for anyone’s exploitation.

“It is this mindset that we still have to deal with and all stakeholders within the environmental sector have to come up with strategies on how we can tackle the mind on such issues,” she said.

But without an alternative, a majority of the country’s population will continue to rely on wood.

EMA spokesperson Mr Steady Kangata said it was imperative for the country to encourage the use of clean sources of energy, among them methane gas, which the country has in abundance, solar, biogas and wind energy.

“Once alternatives are in place it would be easy to reduce the reliance on wood.

“Without cheap alternatives it is going to be difficult to dissuade people from using firewood for cooking. The current energy shortages are militating against efforts to minimise the use of wood in the country.

“While it is difficult to totally eradicate the use of wood people should use it efficiently. People should move away from the use of open fires and move to energy saving stoves,” he said.

The Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation policy document identifies energy as a key enabler to productivity and socio-economic development.

The continued reliance on wood, energy experts say, shows that Zimbabwe is not serious with its energy sector and shows a lack of prioritisation and planning on the part of authorities.

“Many suggestions have been put forward but never followed up. There is no real movement at Batoka Hydro power station and Lupane gas and Sengwa coal mining which would have provided viable alternative to wood energy in Zimbabwe,” said one analyst who refused to be named.

Energy and Power Development Minister, Cde Dzikamai Mavhaire concurred saying it was not sustainable to have a large part of the population relying on wood.

He said this would lead to deforestation and desertification.

“Government is coming up with alternative sources of energy sources that will drastically reduce the number of people relying on firewood.

“We are now promoting the use of renewable and clean sources of energy,” he said.

Minister Mavhaire revealed that Government’s aim was to attain optimal power generation, and the production and use of bio-fuels as enablers for economic productivity in rural areas.

“Because we are aware of our power generation problems, the ministry is also promoting solar, biogas and thermal.

“Every major town will now have a biogas station and the technology is being promoted at hospitals and schools. Human, plant and animal waste will be used to generate energy for the benefit of growth points and schools,” he explained.

In the Zim-Asset blueprint, Zimbabwe has identified several greenfield projects to boost energy and power generation in the country.

The aim is to increase energy for both domestic and industrial use.

Unfortunately the pace has not been pleasing putting pressure on forests.

Consumers said they wanted to be educated on available alternative sources of energy in the country.

“Unfortunately the alternatives remain too expensive for many low and middle-income households hence the drift towards wood,” said Ronica Mashumba of Mahusekwa Growth Point.

Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa now use charcoal for household cooking and heating.

Most Zimbabweans have not grasped the concept, leaving wood as the primary source of energy at the expense of the environment.

It is therefore imperative that Government and stakeholders in the protection of the environment avail more knowledge as well as popularize the use of alternative and renewable energy sources that hold answers to Zimbabwe’s energy needs.

Zimbabwe is currently experiencing power generation problems and has to import more than 35 percent of its electricity requirements from Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to Zesa, power imports now constitute a significant currency outflow which has affected the company’s other expansion projects.

But the recent power generation arrangement will allow independent power producers to provide power and likely improve the availability of energy for both domestic and industrial use on a small scale.

Power is currently being generated from bargasse (sugarcane waste) extracted during the production process of sugar in the Lowveld, Chisumbanje, Triangle and Hippo Valley.

The power is used in surrounding areas.

Source : The Herald