BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka
FOR Alfred Sumani, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) chief executive officer, scientists in the region should get down to work after gathering enough evidence during the three days they met in Lusaka last week.
During the 2019 Zambia Science Conference under the banner “Researchers Symposium on Solar Energy”, Dr Sumani said scientists now have more evidence that they can work on solar to make it more efficient and should be able to advise policy makers accordingly.
“If we do not see anything coming out of this conference, I will be disappointed,” Dr Sumani said at the close of the three-day workshop, which attracted researchers, scientists and administrators from Botswana, Germany, Malawi, Mozambique and hosts Zambia.
He added: “Do not lose momentum. Young scientists, keep up the work you are doing, do not relent.”
Dr Sumani called for the strengthening of collaboration between the NSTC, Fundo Nacional de Investigação (FNI) of Mozambique and the German Research Foundation (DFG).
Participants drawn from Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia shared their experiences through the presentations.
Minister of General Education David Mabumba, who opened the conference, said the topical issue of solar energy could not have come at a better time because Zambia and the region at large are experiencing an energy deficit resulting from the effects of climate change.
“Discussions around alternative energy sources such as solar energy are therefore relevant and critical at this point in time,” Mr Mabumba said.
The conference was timely as it came at a time when the southern African region is facing a power deficit due to poor rains.
The region mainly depends on hydro-generated electricity.
Among the presenters was Isaac Simate from University of Zambia’s Department of Agricultural Engineering in the School of Engineering who is developing a solar heated poultry production system, utilising hybrid solar photovoltaic (PV) collectors by employing water as the heat transfer and storage fluid.
Justifying his research, Dr Simate said the poultry industry in Zambia contributes about 4.8 percent to the agricultural gross domestic product and 48 percent to the livestock sector.
He said income is generated through the sale of eggs, broiler meat and culled hens.
“Large quantities of energy are consumed in the poultry industry for their heating systems which are used to maintain the required temperatures,” Dr Simate said.
He said a study done in Ireland found that in terms of overall energy demand, space heating accounts for over 80 percent of total consumption.
Dr Simate said energy costs constitute a significant portion, often over half of cash expenses for poultry producers.
“Currently, the heating systems in use depend on electricity, charcoal or diesel which cost a lot,” he said.
Dr Simate said production of free-range chickens, otherwise known as village chickens, can be increased by using incubators or keeping small chicks in heated houses at 35 degree Celsius for three weeks.
“Many producers who are not connected to the national electricity grid, and those who have access to electricity but are not able to meet its high cost, are left with the option of using charcoal. The use of charcoal increases the rate of deforestation, which ultimately contributes to climate change,” he said.
Dr Simate said with deforestation rate of 250,000 to 300,000 hectares per year, Zambia’s 50 million hectares of forest is quickly disappearing.
“The challenges associated with the current energy sources for heating poultry houses such as costs, non-availability of grid electricity and deforestation highlight the need for alternative energy sources such as solar,” he said.
Dr Simate said although there are some researches on using solar thermal to heat poultry houses, their focus is on providing heat during the day only, while in the night other sources of energy are used which may be more costly than solar.
“The electricity produced by the collectors will provide power for the circulation water pumps, fans and lighting. The heat produced by the thermal part will be stored in an insulated tank so as to provide a continuous supply of heat during the day and at night,” he said.
He added that the electricity from the photovoltaic part will be stored in batteries to ensure continuous supply of power to the water pump and lights in the night.
Ramchandra Bhandari from the Institute for Technology and Resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics based at the TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences in Germany justified the shift to solar energy in his country.
Professor Bhandari said the Federal Government decided on March 14, 2011 to shut down all German nuclear power plants by the end of 2022 at the latest.
According to the shut-down plan, one plant which produces 1.4 gigawatts (GW) will cease to operate by the end of this year while three plants, with a cumulative production of 4.2GW will be phased out in 2021 with the remaining three plants of 5.8GW closing down in 2022.
So, could solar PV solve both problems: energy access to all and clean energy transition?
Prof Bhandari said photovoltaics (the conversion of light into electricity using semi-conducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect) is already a major actor in the global energy landscape
He said the Renewable Energy Act of 2000 and its Feed-in-Tariff instrument changed everything in the solar sector in Germany.
“Each household consumer [and small business] shares the burden. Perhaps not the suitable model for many African countries,” Prof Bhandari said.
He said Germany is a mature market for renewable energy and the main attribute of this growth must be given to the renewable energy act policy.
“Developing and implementing a proper policy instrument is vital for solving the problems of energy sufficiency, energy security and combating global greenhouse gas emissions. We are scientifically responsible for promoting the renewable energy as tomorrow’s sole energy source,” Prof Bhandari said.
He said Germany is a mature market for solar PV, which contributes about eight percent of national gross electricity supply.
“In our scenario, PV module price may fall up to €300 per kilowatt peak once the installations cross one terawatt mark. The continent Africa could [should] benefit from leap-frogging,” Prof Bhandari said.
Lara Berens, who works for DFG in International Affairs Department and is responsible for Africa and the Middle East, said the strategy approved in 2015 by the executive board aims to advance science through international collaboration in a fast-evolving African research landscape with enormous human resources to create an optimal framework for collaborations among African and German scientists, and to monitor and evaluate the need for collaborations.
Ms Berens said DGF aims to make research with Germany visible and accessible for scientists in Africa and vice versa, identifying, understanding and supporting local as well as regional research and funder networks and funding mechanisms, such as the Science Granting Councils Initiative, the Global Research Council or the Next Einstein Forum.
“Secondly, we support scientific collaborations. And precisely this Science Symposium is actually the best example for such an initiative that brings researchers and Science Granting Councils from different countries together and allows them to explore new ways of collaboration,” she said.
And thirdly, Ms Berens said DFG explores synergies.
“Therefore, we improve the communication within DFG but beyond that we also explore interfaces to complementary funding opportunities in other organisations and interact with existing or emerging networks (African Institutes for Mathematical Sciences, AIMS, Science Granting Councils Initiative, SGCI),” she said.
BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka