Energy Minister celebrates targets, but is alternative energy the answer?

MUTARE – A five-year government energy development project is set to boost alternative power generation by constructing 7,000 biogas digesters.

Under this development, the Ministry of Energy and Power Development is embarking on alternative power generation under the Institutional and Domestic Biogas Digester programmes.

Energy Minister Dr Samuel Undenge said the project which commenced last year is expected to be complete by 2018.

Biogas can be purified into methane, which is used to generate electricity, heating and cooking purposes, or as a substitute for petrol and diesel in vehicles.

Dr Undenge said government has made tremendous progress in the construction of prototype biogas digesters in the targeted eight provinces last year.

“There is a five year programme that will see the construction of about 7,000 biogas digesters on a commercial basis at homesteads, which started in 2014 up to 2018,” said Dr Undenge.

He said the programme is being spearheaded by his ministry in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development and two Dutch non-governmental organisations, namely SNV and HIVOS.HIVOS logo

“215 biogas digesters are targeted to be constructed this year while focus has been on capacity building and sensitising communities on biogas technology,” he said.

Dr Undenge added that feasibility studies on production of electricity using biogas produced from municipal sewage treatment works are also to commence this year.

But is this enough to salvage urban citizens from perennial power cuts “load shedding”, or indeed connect the rural folk to the national power grid?

Ministry’s mandate

Presenting a paper on state of affairs to Mutare Press Club, Energy Minister said the ministry was “responsible for superintending over the Energy Sector in terms of formulating relevant energy projects and programmes.”

Dr Udenge said this is guided by the 2012 National Energy Policy with a multi-pronged approach ensure universal access to modern energy services.

Photo credit: www.chronicle.co.zw
Photo credit: www.chronicle.co.zw

Commissioning the 80KW micro hydro power plant at Himalaya in Zimunya-Mutare rural district Dr Undenge revealed that in Zimbabwe a paltry 37% of a total population standing just above 13 million, have access to the main electricity grid.

He stated that of this connected population 83% are in urban areas, leaving rural folks with just 13% access to the national electricity grid.

These sombre figures reflect an untenable situation with regards to protection of subsistent farmers and rural folk in rural areas who represent 61% inversely the larger proportion of the population.

Dr Undenge says government through its economic blue print, ZIMASSET has set energy efficiency targets aimed at increasing use of renewable energy by up to 300MW by 2018. He said such a proactive policy direction was also complemented by incentives for use of renewable energy through a tax exemption scheme.

Government will also develop a renewable energy policy to develop a guidelines and a road map for creating a more conducive environment to attract investment in renewable energy, Dr Undenge revealed.

While government’s stance is commendable clean energy users say government should utilise available resources.

Municipality sewers are cheaper alternatives Tawanda Chitiyo of Empire Africa said while constructing of biogas digesters was noble in the long run; government should prioritise readily available digesters at distinguished local authorities.

He said biogas can be easily tapped from landfills (refuse dumps) and waste water treatment plants in various local authorities such as Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Masvingo including other small towns.

“Waste management plants both landfill and water waste if utilised can make biogas, which can be purified into methane.

“What is only needed is to seal the digesters by making them airtight to allow fermentation, which is anaerobic digestion of the biomass (sewage),” he added.

Mutare has three wastewater treatment plants while two of the plants in Sakubva and Yeovil have potential to produce biogas provided a few adjustments are made to the two plants.

Chitiyo said Mutare alone has potential to produce a combined 2 100 kilogrammes of bio-methane per day with capacity to generate 1,12megawatts.

“The Yeovil sewer plant in Mutare has potential to produce 1,400 kilogrammes of bio-methane per day. This has capacity to produce 0, 75 megawatts of electricity per hour.

“The one in Sakubva can produce 700kgs translating to half the electricity that can be generated from the Yeovil sewer,” he said.

Chitiyo has already engaged the local authority in Mutare with intention to establish biogas plants at the two sewer systems.

The city fathers are expected to deliberate on the matter during their next full council meeting.

Biogas is encouraged for small holder farming areas, commercial farms, boarding schools, hospitals and similar rural institutions.

Harare has already moved in to tap this underutilised form of energy.

The Harare city mayor Bernard Manyenyeni revealed that partners have already tabled their proposal to establish a biogas plant and the project is expected to commence soon.

More electricity can still be generated if readily available digesters in Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Masvingo are fully utilised considering the electricity deficiency in the country.

Only 1,200 megawatts are currently being generated against a national demand of 2 200MW.

However, there is a general perception in the country that gas is a dangerous form of energy.

A South Africa energy expert Rulf Tobich said gas is safe and has become the most widely used source of energy the world over.

A case in point

European Union attaché responsible for Economic Cooperation and Food Security Severin Mellac believes without concrete interventions which provide tangible benefits to communities, energy access remains a pipe dream.

He made these comments at the commissioning of small scale hydro power generation project which he says is an impetus for government to prioritize sustainable, clean, alternative and renewable energy.EU Flag

Without such substantial capital investment rural families are condemned to add numbers of hungry Zimbabweans in need of food assistance, at a time when government is reeling from under performance in the agricultural sector.

The projects will power 110 households as well as provide for cooperative projects from piped water falling using gradient to turn turbines which generate power.

The generated power, which can reach up to 120KW during the rainy season, will drive two irrigation schemes covering a combined area of 25 hectares, set up power kiosks for a saw mill, grinding mill, carpentry shop, dressmaking shop and a tuck shop.

Mellac also revealed that the use of alternative, clean and renewable energy was a key opportunity towards fighting climate change.

Mellac believes without government’s significant investment into sustainable and renewable energy food security will largely remain a pipe dream for disadvantaged rural communities which are trapped in a cycle of poverty.

He said government should emulate the international stance on the use of renewable energy towards attainment of sustainable development, particularly towards mitigating against adverse effects of climate change.

“The increasing use of renewable energy is now a priority for the international world and in Zimbabwe the EU consider renewable energy as an important enabler for livelihood improvement and economic growth,” he said.

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