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Alternative energy answer to power outages


Electricity load-shedding, for Sharon Tapera of Chitungwiza, has become a way of life.

Report by Phillip Chidavaenzi

She understands the nightmares of urban life without power.

For the 45-year-old mother of four, it is tough just trying to ensure that the detrimental effects of extensive power cuts are easy on her family.

She has to get firewood for cooking every day or optionally, paraffin which costs $1 for a 750mm bottle or $1,50 a litre.

For this woman of modest means, this is expensive.

Having lived literally all her life before the turn of the millennium with unlimited access to electricity, she had never had an opportunity to explore alternative sources of power.

“For many years some of us never knew there could ever be power shortages. We hardly had opportunities to consider other sources of power because electricity was always available,” she says.

Her case typifies that of many ordinary Zimbabweans who continue to moan over the unavailability of adequate electricity.

But there is a potential energy source for households which could come in handy if harnessed—biogas.

This is a gas produced by the biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen.

Organic wastes such as dead plants and animal material, animal waste and human excreta can be converted into the gaseous fuel.

A local engineer, Ephrem Whingwiri, who is responsible for research and development at A&B Revolving Energies, says the technology is more than convenient for Zimbabwe which desperately needs power.

He says the technology can be cheaply developed from locally available cow-dung and other materials.

“Private sector participation is important for the renewable energy strategies to succeed,” he says.

“Although we have several institutional digesters in the country, most of them are not working, so it’s very critical for the private sector to come on board.”

He adds that biogas digesters will ensure that are able to generate electricity using less water.

Energy experts, however, say for a long time, there has not been much interest in the energy.

Estimated to have the potential to replace around 17% of vehicle fuel, the renewable fuel can also be cleaned and upgraded to natural gas standards when it becomes bio methane.

Whingwiri says they have also designed a toilet that recycles human waste and cleans the water back to a pathogen-less state.

Energy and Power Development minister Elton Mangoma yesterday said his ministry would soon start using waste from vegetable markets such as Mbare Musika for electricity generation to alleviate the power challenges afflicting the nation.

Speaking at Harare Central Hospital where he was the guest of honour during the commissioning of a prototype institutional biogas digester last week, Mangoma said the project would be implemented at all major institutions including hospitals and boarding schools.

Mangoma says the waste accumulating at public places and markets around the country carry vast potential for use in the production of renewable energy.

His ministry is working on projects designed to capitalise on such waste and ensure it becomes beneficial: “The ministry is working on a project to treat waste from Mbare Musika vegetable market using biogas digesters which will be constructed close to the market.

“The gas produced can be used by households and canteens near the market and the sludge from the process will be dried and sold to farmers as organic fertiliser.”

Government has committed $1 million to the project which will see over 50 biogas digesters constructed in various institutions and the move is in line with the national energy policy which calls for diversification of energy supply options.

The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) says it has constructed five biogas digesters in the country at Chikurubi Maximum Prison, Roosevelt Girls’ High School, the Pig Industry Board and at a homestead in Domboshawa.

“Many people are not aware of the vast potential presented by biogas technology to solve energy problems encountered by both rural and urban communities. It is a low cost clean energy option,” says REA board deputy chairperson Latiso Dhlamini.

Biogas technology can also be used lighting, cooking and heating as well as electricity generation on a large scale.

The new energy policy, launched by Mangoma in October 2012, mandates REA to cover all forms of energy, including solar, biogas and mini hydro, to ensure that people in rural areas are able to access adequate, reliable, low-cost and environmentally sustainable energy services.

Waste accumulating at public places and markets around the country carry vast potential for use in the production of renewable energy

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