Renewable energy has become the ‘buzz phrase’ whenever people talk about green technologies, climate change mitigations, sustainable utilisation of resources and sustainable development.
Unfortunately, more often than not, those who talk about it are not even sure of what it is.
Energy is the ability to do work; to cause a movement from one point to another. Without it, everything would remain as it is. The world would be dead boring! It is, however, clear that the development and wellbeing of a people is determined by their access to modern energy in terms of its form, availability and affordability.
There are two basic needs for all living organisms - plants and animals alike - energy and procreation. At birth, the human baby cries from thermal shock after leaving the warmth of the womb. It cries for energy to keep warm. The umbilical code is then severed and the baby starts crying for food and energy to stay alive and grow.
From that moment until old age [and then death], human beings look primarily for energy for thermal comfort and food for life and growth. Trade, communication and transport are means through which people can haul energy home, from afar. Usually, after we have secured our own food and thermal comfort, we look after those closest to us, family.
Procreation is about the continuation of species’ existence. Species thrive when there is basic food and thermal comfort. Happiness and peace of mind are guaranteed by the security of energy supplies, as well as knowing that one’s family is catered for. For energy wars are waged, for energy people migrate from their birth places and for family people are prepared to fight to death.
A community becomes part of the family at large if its interests serve to secure energy and family welfare for every individual. Inequality can stem from the lack of sufficient energy for some. The amount of energy any nation is able to harness for its people always determines the level of development of that nation, not to mention the state of wellbeing of its people.
How much energy a person (or a nation) controls, or their means to access energy determines how powerful they are (as viewed in society). As such, it determines how independent they are from external influences. Ideally, energy resources should be harnessed for the benefit of those living in that environment. Sadly, the fossil fuel resources that stimulate the industry (e.g. oil and coal) are concentrated in specific regions of the earth, making those regions potential sources of conflict as everyone seeks access.
Furthermore, large financial and technological investments are required for extraction and purification for useful consumption. Not all nations have the required resources to invest in these energy sources. Industrialised countries therefore extract these raw materials from less industrialised countries, process them and then sell the purified products. This creates an imbalance since developing countries cannot determine the price of the crude versus the processed products. In this way, they become energy dependent, even energy poor.
How is energy renewed?
This form of energy comes from renewable sources that are on a short-term basis, such as the continuous energy flow from water sources to sinks - whether or not it is harnessed. A better example is the solar energy that continuously flow and reach the earth in large amounts. At a particular location, the sun rises and sets because of the rotation of the earth.
Human technological intervention is needed to harness the energy. It changes it into useful and convenient forms in the process, such as electricity - through solar cells, or heat - through solar water heaters, etc.
Wind is a result of unequal heating of the earth’s surface and atmosphere. Therefore, it exists according to the generated temperature and pressure gradients. Human intervention is also needed to design wind turbines that face the air current and generate electricity, or directly pump water.
Rainfalls on catchment areas of perennial fast flowing streams can be utilised for mini and micro-hydro power plants. Biomass can also be utilised for biodiesel production, digested into biogas for heating and lighting, etc. If all these forms of energy are not harnessed, they would flow continuously into natural sinks.
Domestic renewable energy sources are the natural flows of energy abundantly available at any given location. Although every place on earth has the same number of daylight hours per year, some have very short nights in winter and very long days in summer, while for equatorial and tropical regions, the number of daylight hours varies only slightly with seasons. Solar radiation is also more intense around the equator than at the poles.
However, equatorial regions tend to have much more cloud cover as compared to the tropics. Wind regimes also vary according to the latitude, terrain and proximity to water bodies. Biomass flows are dependent on rainfall and soil fertility, as well as sizes of cities and agricultural activities. So some will have more while others, less. In the same vein, some areas will have rivers and perennial streams, while some not. Every country has some measure of renewable energy resources. Their local exploitation for local consumption has the potential to accelerate growth in developing countries.
Namibia is working towards a renewable energy economy. Although it will need to channel more resources to accelerate this endeavour, there are considerable Government efforts in this regard. The needed resources include financial and human resources. Capacity building for relevant expertise including research and development, a critical mass of industry players, development of the market for the renewable energy products, suitable regulations, enforcement of standards, etc, will also play a major role. But Namibia is already in the right direction. International support will thus be easy to harness provided an enabling environment with fair regulations is set up. PF