Most Africans are dependent on solid fuels such as wood, coal, crop residue/waste and cattle dung to prepare daily meals on traditional mud stoves or open fires due to lack of electricity.
This lack of access to electricity is holding back economic expansion on the continent.
“About a third of the population have access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa, and in some countries, like Zambia, only 5 percent of rural and 26 percent of the urban population have electricity,” says expert in distributed renewable energy and Sierra Leone Power for All campaign director, Aminata Dumbuya.
She adds that in Sierra Leone, less than 12 percent of people in the country’s cities have access to electricity, while in rural areas, where most people live, the figure is less than 1 percent.
The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MISC) 2014 also notes that more than 70 percent of households in Zimbabwe still rely on solid fuels as their primary cooking and heating energy sources.
Such inefficient cooking and heating practices produce high levels of household (indoor) air pollution which comes with a range of health damaging pollutants such as fine particles and carbon monoxide.
In poorly ventilated dwellings, wisps of smoke in and around the home can exceed acceptable levels for fine particles 100-fold, and this increases the risk of pneumonia in children as well as chronic bronchitis and other diseases in women.
“Exposure is particularly high among women and young children because they spend most time near the domestic hearth,” says Engineer Oswell Chakwanda. “Sadly, household pollution is killing more people every year than Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria combined.”
He also says the smoke springing during cooking and heating procedures consists of short-lived, but high impact climate change agents like black carbon which are light-absorbing carbon particles.
“These short-lived, but high impact climate change agents are more intoxicating in the short-term than greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane,” adds Engineer Chakwanda.
However, energy and climate experts believe embracing and popularising clean energy technologies related to recycling and renewable energy (wind power, solar power, biomass, hydropower and biofuels) among rural populations is the most effective way to reduce negative environmental impacts through significant energy efficiency improvements over and above the sustainable use of resources.
“The adoption and popularisation of clean energy technologies not only lower the risk of pneumonia in children and chronic bronchitis and other ailments in women, but are critical in attaining universal energy access in a sustainable way,” says ZERO Regional Environment Organisation Director, Shephard Zvigadza.
Engineer Chakwanda adds that the provision of clean energy sources propagates inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development in Zimbabwe and other developing nations.
“The provision of clean energy technologies is an enabler to health, education and agriculture. It provides a strategic alternative to conventional energy sources, considering the impacts of climate change and pressures of increased energy demand,” he says.
Engineer Chakwanda urges policy makers in Zimbabwe to take a cue from China, Japan and United States in switching to clean energy technologies.
“China, the world’s biggest single investor in clean energy technologies, installed 11 gigawatts of solar, and there are plans in the works for just as much this year,” he says. “China is also pouring money into cleaner coal – a form of clean technology that many greens disdain, but that could be enormously beneficial.”
Fiona Mundonga of Ruzivo Trust, a research-based organisation that undertakes issues to do with clean energy technologies, also says renewable energies such as solar and wind power are accessible, affordable, reliable, sustainable and timely and can effectively help address energy requirements such as lighting.
“Solar household systems, which are common in both urban and rural areas, for instance, help in tackling energy requirements as far as lighting and other utilities are concerned,” she adds.
Chiedza Mazaiwana, Power for All Zimbabwe Campaign leader, believes there must be a shift in the acceptance of renewable power if the country is to attain energy access in line with Sustainable Development Goal 7 which seeks to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.”
Target 1 of SDG7 endeavours “by 2030, to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services” while target 2 of the same goal makes an efforts “to increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030.”
ZERO Regional Environment Organisation Project Officer, Wellington Madumira, says the media should in the switch to these technologies.
“By reporting on clean energy issues, the media empowers communities to participate in energy debates as well as discussions that affect them,” he says. “Media reports enable people to have a say in the design, implementation as well as impact assessment of sustainable energy projects.”
However, Renewable Energy Association of Zimbabwe (REAZ) Secretary, Simba Sibanda, says clean energy technologies can close Zimbabwe’s energy access gap, but their use as well as promotion is still limited in the country.
“The uptake of wind and solar is still limited in the country and this is so because energy service providers are faced with serious problems,” he adds, urging all stakeholders in the energy sector to join hands and collectively work together for the common cause of creating a supportive framework for the rapid expansion and integration of clean energy sources into the national energy plan.