At a press briefing on the ongoing electricity crisis, the CEO of the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC)) Jacob Ralesu, PS to the Ministry, Dr. Akolang Tombane, as well the incumbent head of the Ministry, Honourable PHK Kedikilwe, were captured by the Tribune (17-23 February 2008) saying in effect that the reason government will not venture into solar technology is that solar technology is costly and too new.
Solar technology is not new technology. These technologies date back from the time of early Greeks, Native Americans and the Chinese who warmed their buildings by orientating them toward the sun. The Romans in the 6th century called the necessity for it the ‘right to light’.
Solar cookers, a type of solar technology, were first made in 1767 to offset fuel costs, reduce demand for firewood and improve air quality. Solar hot water systems were initiated in the 1890s in the U.S, and it is responsible today for 50-70% of domestic hot water use in the U.S. Solar ponds were made in 1948. Israel and the University of Texas use them to collect and store energy. Solar cells used for photovoltaic lighting were first produced in 1883.
BPC experimented with photovoltaic lighting in 1992. It called the experiment the National Photovoltaic Rural Electrification Programme. The experiment was piloted in Manyana, Molepolole and Takatokwane. In 1996 REFAD (Renewable Energy for Africa Development) was contracted to evaluate the project. It did that and made the recommendation that the installations be replicated or rolled out to other villages around the country.
It is eleven years since that evaluation and the National Photovoltaic Rural Electrification Programme has not delivered any Photovoltaic Rural Electrification.
Botswana occupies part of the earth which is directly under the sun’s course. This means that our annual average ground level insolation (incoming solar radiation) for the entire year, including nights and cloud days, is in the upwards of 400 W/m2.
This converts into 10 kwh/m2/day. 10kwh/day could cut the standard BPC electricity connection fee of 9500 by 30%.
This energy saving initiative could greatly benefit the 78% of citizens without electricity.
Lack of competition for supply of electricity is what makes for government the initial cost of solar technology undesirable. It also slows down the pace of production of the commodity.
If in doubt, consider whether the reason it took BPC 38 years to connect electricity to 22% of citizens is due to insufficient quantity and quality of solar technology in the international market or to deliberate hinges on the ease of entry into the supply by private sector of solar technology.
Ultimately, Government alone is responsible for making the decision to do nothing or to do something about its 38-year neglect to make use of our annual incoming solar radiation.
If it chooses to do nothing, the citizens better not be too optimistic about the BPC 2016 target to provide every citizen with electricity.
The reason I am saying this is that at the present rate of production (22% every 38 years), the 1.4 million citizens without electricity may need to wait 172 years before they too can enjoy their right to light.