Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Alternative Energy Namibia: Solar Energy

a water pump in Namibia - photography by Adrian Arbib

AllAfrica.com reports that the largest solar power station in Namibia was inaugurated at the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre in the Namib Desert on 30th November 2004.

In the past, diesel generators provided electricity for 16 hours daily, along with noise and air pollution, high maintenance requirements and increasing fuel expenses.

The new station boasts a solar energy array of 26 kiloWatt peak, a battery bank with 200 kiloWatt hours of stored electricity and three-phase electricity for the entire centre and adjacent accommodation units for staff, students and visitors.

Robert Schultz of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Bureau of Namibia (R3E) explains that Gobabeb operates its own electricity grid, called a mini-grid, in an area located far from the national grid.

When two or more energy sources are combined to power a mini-grid, it is called a "hybrid".

In the case of Gobabeb, power is supplied by solar panels and, only when necessary, diesel generators.

The diesel generators were symbolically switched off by Gottlieb Amanyanga, Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, on Friday.

In his speech he described the process of trial and error that the Ministry had embarked on to find solutions to the challenges of rural electrification.

He said off-grid electrification might be the only solution to many of the more than 2,000 settlements in the country without electricity.

These settlements are widely dispersed and too small to be considered for grid electrification.

That is why renewable energy technologies, coupled with energy efficiency measures, are vital for generating electricity and other energy services in off-grid areas.

The approach of using a mini-grid installation, powered by solar and wind energy and with a diesel system only as backup, to electrify a village is a new experience in Namibia.

"If this project is successful, it should offer clear guidelines for the replication of a mini-grid approach not only in Namibia's rural areas, but in the region as a whole," said Amanuanga.

He called the project a stepping-stone that would "hopefully show us a clearer direction on where to go and how to get there".

The main objectives of the project are to assess the replicability of this electrification approach in other areas in Namibia and to demonstrate how such an approach would be implemented and operated.

Dr John Henschel, Director of the Gobabeb Training and Research Centre, offered an insight into the US $900,000 project, which was funded by the Danish Development Agency (DANIDA).

The project does not only include solar energy as a power source, but also extensive refurbishment to increase the energy efficiency at the centre through introducing energy-efficient appliances and passive cooling and lighting techniques.

All Africa.com article on the use of renewable energy in rural electrification in Namibia