Sitotombe: Low cost energy solutions for Africa is feasible

Chipo Sitotombe’s appetite for energy access targets all Africans. Just recently, effort by the young researcher to ensure that low cost energy solutions, particularly sustainable energy become a reality on the continent was greeted with optimism. Thanks to the backing provided by the International Support Network for African Development (ISNAD-Africa), a pan-African and multidisciplinary network of professionals, researchers, and students around the globe promoting Sustainable Energy, Environment and Education. In this interview, Sitotombe discussed key issues in the sector, especially her experience under the ISNAD-Africa’s Mentoring for Research Programme.

KINGSLEY JEREMIAH writes..

 

Please introduce yourself for record purpose

I am Chipo Sitotombe. I am from Zimbabwe. I hold bachelors in Chemical Engineering from National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe. Similarly, I recently completed masters in energy engineering from Pan African University Institute of Water and Energy Sciences in Algeria. I am passionate about sustainable energy, especially the development of low cost energy solutions for my continent to ensure energy access for all.

Congrats on the recent completion of your master’s degree programme funded by GIZ. What was the experience like and what project did you work on?

 

Thank you very much. I had a wonderful experience at PAUWES. My heartfelt gratitude goes to the sponsors of the programme; African Union, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and kFW for awarding the opportunity that equips young African minds with the relevant skills and knowledge to bring innovative solutions to the problems of energy, water and climate change.

What I enjoyed most at PAUWES aside the high quality training from energy experts across the globe was learning in a multicultural community. PAUWES has students from more than 30 African states from all the five regions of Africa. I had so much to learn and share with my collegues. And I am really excited by the lifelong networks I created for the purposes of moving Africa forward as far as sustainable energy is concerned during my time at the Institute.

I worked on a project entitled Modelling Renewable Energy Integration, “A System Dynamic Approach” and I used Tanzania as my case study.

How did you learn about ISNAD-AFRICA and the MRP?

A colleague of mine from PAUWES told me about this programme when we were drawing up our research proposals. After going through the call for mentees I decided to apply.

What was your mentorship experience like in the Mentoring for Research Programme (MRP)?

I had an awesome mentorship experience under the MRP programme. My appreciation goes to ISNAD-AFRICA, the facilitators of the initiative and Dr William Blythm, my mentor. Dr William was very supportive and active in stimulating discussions and giving out constructive reviews. He continuously motivated me and patiently guided me throughout my research. The successful completion of my research work owes a lot to him.

His input made a big difference in the way I handled my research. It did not only make my work easier but also exciting. He dedicated so much time to my work and I recall I always used to look forward to discussing my work with him on Skype because I had so much to learn from the discussions and after every conversation I would feel so energized to continue and finish.

Research work has its own challenges and I am really glad that I had the extra support of Dr William to compliment the great work of my institutional supervisor.

Renewable Energy Integration “A System Dynamic Approach”, Case of Tanzania, what is this topic really about?

In my research work I use a system dynamics modelling approach to justify the need for more efforts towards integrating renewable energy in the current energy system of Tanzania.

I developed a model that incorporated the economic, technical, political, social and environmental aspects of Tanzania’s energy system. This model was used to show the trend in the energy price ratios of the energy generating technologies in the country between 2010 and 2050, illustrate the changing trends in energy demand due to changes in price ratios of the energy generating technologies, identify opportunities and barriers for accelerated renewable energy deployment

 

What were your motivations for the topic and what are your findings?  

Modern energy is a key driver to sustained economic growth and improved livelihoods but despite the abundant resources in Sub-Sahara Africa, it remains the part of the world with the largest number of people without access to modern energy and heavily relies on traditional fuels for energy. The few that have access to modern energy are faced with high energy prices. On the other hand Africa’s population growth and urbanisation rates are rapidly increasing thus causing the proportion without access to further increase.

So most governments in Sub-Sahara Africa are faced with the problem of having to provide for their countries’ growing energy needs at a time when the world is battling with negative impacts of CO2 emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels for energy generation.

Fortunately there has been technological advancement and significant cost reductions for renewable energy technologies and large scale deployment of renewable energy offers Sub Sahara African countries a sustainable, cost effective path to rapidly provide affordable energy for its growing population and economies.

Hence the need to advocate for Renewable Integration in Sub-Sahara African countries.

For the energy generating technologies considered in the research work (natural gas, hydropower, Solar PV and Wind): Natural gas and hydropower which are currently contributing to the majority share in the electricity mix of Tanzania and therefore driving the current energy price in the country will experience a very small decrease in the energy price ratios even with high commitment from Tanzanian authorities to develop these technologies.

Solar PV and Wind however experience a significant decrease in the energy price ratio during the modelling period although it starts off very high.  The low prices are attractive to the low income consumers (which make up the largest share of Tanzania’s population). Therefore renewable electricity can play a significant role in fostering access to affordable energy in Tanzania therefore more commitment by Tanzanian authorities (through renewable energy policy initiatives) is required in order to reduce the initial high price ratios of the generating technologies. Because these initial high price ratios are scaring away investments and hampering progress as far as renewable energy penetration is concerned.

Looking at the example of Tanzania and Zimbabwe, how will you rate renewable energy penetration in Africa?

There have been a few initiatives in terms of renewable energy policy and renewable energy infrastructure development. But most countries are still relying largely on their traditional generating technologies. Zimbabwe for example relies on hydropower and coal while Tanzania relies on natural gas and hydropower so commitment to develop solar PV, geothermal or wind despite the availability of these resources is still quite limited. Governments need to increase commitment in developing infrastructure of these renewable generating technologies in order to diversify supply and deliver clean affordable energy to all.

What’s your advice for people currently on the programme or people intending to be part of the initiative?

The MRP is an excellent opportunity to invest in you. Make the best of the opportunity by fully engaging your mentors and learn as much as you can from them. It is always important to keep in mind that we are not doing what we do just for ourselves but for our continent. Our research work should contribute to bringing innovative solutions and creating the Africa we want so it is very important to stay committed and focused during the time of research.

I encourage those that want to be part of the initiative to apply when the call is made for mentees. It is an experience you cannot afford to miss. The programme is ideal for preparing your research work. You will not only develop quality work but also work that is relevant to the needs of our societies.

 

Kingsley Jeremiah,

Communications Associate, ISNAD-Africa

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