THE evening sun is setting on a group of women carrying firewood, casting long shadows behind them.
They are on their way back to the village, Matema, after having spent almost the whole day collecting firewood from the village forest.
They spent three hours walking to reach the now thin forest, about another three hours collecting firewood and now they are on their way back to their homes.
They are likely to take longer to reach home, what with the heavy loads of firewood on their heads. They are also tired and hungry. In recent years, the forest has receded further away from the village.
Deforestation is taking its toll and women must bear the brunt as the increasingly scarce firewood is the only source of energy they use in their homes for cooking and lighting.
The use of firewood causes severe indoor pollution and is a threat to the health of families.
Recent reports suggest that forests cover about 30 per cent of the global land area, which stands at an estimated 4 billion hectares but global annual deforestation is estimated to be 18.7 million hectares, about 0.5 per cent.
For developing countries like Tanzania, deforestation accounts for 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Carbontanzania website.
A report by WWF published on April 3, 2018 says that while forests absorb 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, global deforestation accounts for between 15 and 20 per cent of the emissions.
Like firewood, the use of charcoal also causes severe deforestation. Forests cover about 40 per cent of Tanzania’s land and according to Climate Action Network Tanzania (CAN –Tz) nearly one million tons of charcoal are consumed in the country each year.
This amount of charcoal produces between 20 to 50 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
“Producing that amount of charcoal requires about 30 million cubic metres of wood with annual average loss in forest cover standing at between 100,000 to 125,000 hectares,” says a report by CAN-Tz.
And while forests continue to diminish forcing women to trek long distances in search of firewood, more people continue to be affected by indoor pollution.
Deforestation is on the rise and, on the other hand, greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change are also on the rise. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) indoor pollution accounts for 3.8 million deaths globally every year.
The deaths arise from exposure to smoke from dirty cook stoves and biomass fuels. An important part of the solution to deforestation and rising global greenhouse gas emissions lies in the use of renewable energy that is reliable, easily accessible by the rural poor and affordable by all.
“In Sub-Saharan Africa electricity access rate in the region is often substantially low, households and businesses with access often face unreliable service, and the cost of the service is often among the highest in the world.
This situation imposes substantial constraints on economic activities, provision of public services, adoption of new technologies, and quality of life. The ultimate goal is to enable households and businesses to gain access to electricity and afford its use….,” says a recent World Bank publication.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that in 2013, approximately 1.3 billion people throughout the world lacked access to electricity; 620 million of these lived in sub-Sahara Africa.
In addition 2.8 billion had no access to modern cooking facilities. “Renewable energy together with improved energy efficiency could contribute substantially towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which enhance energy security, reduce health risks, increase agricultural productivity and conserve natural resources,” says a publication by IEA.
In November 2016 at the UN COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco, 48 countries including Tanzania, committed to strive to meet 100 per cent domestic renewable energy production as rapidly as possible while working to end energy poverty, protect water and food security, taking into consideration national circumstances.
These countries are among the most vulnerable countries and are united as the Climate Vulnerable Forum.
Almost three years down the road little has been achieved in helping families access renewable energy for domestic use, although government, civil society organizations have taken measures to reach this goal.
CAN-Tz, for example has been implementing a project to help communities access renewable energy for cooking and lighting. Where villages have yet to access renewable energy, CAN-Tz has worked with partners to promote technologies that use traditional energy sources like charcoal and firewood efficiently.
“We have been engaging with key energy stakeholders to develop a coherent strategy on how to implement 100 per cent renewable energy (RE) as part of the country’s sustainable low carbon development and poverty reduction goals. Partners involved in this process include government, parliament, private sector and civil society organizations,” says Dr. Sixbert Mwanga, Executive Director for CAN-Tz.
The goal is to promote access to renewable energy to rural communities that are yet to be connected to the grid.
According to the SADC Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Status Report 2018, Tanzania is implementing the National Rural Electrification Programme (2013 – 2022) the goal of which is to increase the country’s overall access to electricity from 36 per cent in 2014 to 50 per cent by 2025 and to at least 75 per cent by 2033.
“By Dec, 2018 the share of solar technology in household lighting was 26 per cent against the national grid of 29.1 per cent,” says Engineer Mathew Matimbwi, Executive Secretary for Tanzania Renewable Energy Association (TAREA), and Interim Chairperson for East Africa Renewable Energy Federation (EAREF).
Tanzania has made little progress towards achieving 100 per cent domestic RE for various reasons. According to Dr. Matimbwi, it is difficult to supply 100 per cent renewable electricity due to lack of energy storage.
“But the tariff of electricity generated from renewable energy mini grids is still high. It ranges from 3,500/- to 7,000/- which many producers find difficult to afford.
Besides, renewable energy plants are not subsidized during operation while national grids are. This is because authorities tend to look only at tariffs without paying due attention to operational costs.
If operational costs for renewable energy mini grids and the national grid are not harmonised, access to energy for productive use will continue being limited,” explains Dr. Eng. Matimbwi According to Dr Mwanga, the march towards 100 per cent renewable target is slow.
“We are still preparing the National Renewable Energy Strategy, which will probably be completed end of this year. It is good we committed ourselves to provide Tanzanians with 100 domestic RE but we must step up coordination between sector ministries as well as implementing partners,” he says.
Even with the slow uptake, Dr. Mwanga says that implementation of RE could speed up the industrialization drive.
“The target should be to develop stand alone sources of RE in villages and semi-urban areas using solar systems and mini-hydro power generators in order to promote small-scale industries.
“These would create employment, initiate new sources of income and reduce poverty, and so raise the quality of lives. Let us not wait for the national grid,” he says.
On his part, Eng. Matimbwi says that industrialisation will boost the captive power solutions as production companies will strive to generate their own electricity from renewable sources.
Among companies that generate electricity from renewable sources are Kiliflora in Arusha, TPC in Kilimanjaro and Ilovo-Kilombero Sugar in Morogoro Region.
Records indicate that the current share of renewable energy in the energy mix power generation is five per cent and that of lighting (grid connected and isolated systems) is 26 per cent.
Speaking about the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), a UN programme which Tanzania is implementing, Dr.
Matimbwi explains that in December 2012 the share of solar energy for lighting households was six per cent while by the end of 2018 it reached 26 per cent.
“Tanzania has the target of adding 150MW of solar energy and 200MW of wind energy to the grid by December 2020 and tenders for the two projects have already been floated by TANESCO,” explains Eng. Matimbwi.
The Sustainable Energy for All programme aims to ensure that everyone can access sustainable energy by 2030. It also seeks to improve energy efficiency and increase the use of renewable energy for all, as part ofimplementation of Sustainable Development Goal 7, Universal Access to Energy by 2030.
At the global level, various measures have been taken to increase access to and use of renewable energy particularly for rural communities.
Among them is the Least Developed Countries Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative for Sustainable Development (LDC REEEI), an initiative to accelerate the harnessing of the renewable energy potential and promote energy efficiency.
The initiative aims to assist countries achieve their development aspirations by attaining 100 per cent access to sufficient, affordable, modern and clean energy by all citizens in Least Developed Countries by 2030.
It also seeks to help LDCs produce 100 per cent electricity from renewable energy sources by 2050 that caters to all needs of their citizens, social services and industries.
Many developing countries are endowed with significant renewable energy source potentials but majority of their people, productive sectors and development efforts suffer from energy deficits.
Thus increased access to energy has the potential to greatly improve the lives and livelihoods of populations. However, transition to renewable energy should focus beyond increased household energy.
Efforts should also be directed to productive and social services sector, driving economic development, creating jobs, supporting the expansion social and welfare services and increasing resilience to climate change.
Another global initiative is the Africa Renewable energy Initiative (AREI) which aims at enabling Africa to move quickly to adopt modern distributed energy systems that are renewable, smarter and able to reach people currently without adequate access to modern energy services.
It focuses on building integrated solutions to the challenge of widening access to clean energy services, improving human well being and putting African countries on climate friendly sustainable development pathways.
The basic premise of the initiative is that all societies in Africa must change to zero-carbon energy systems in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.
“For poor people increasing access to energy is the path to realizing their potential for improved livelihoods, hence the need to promote unprecedented efforts to reach populations currently not connected to national grids.
Access to adequate energy services is directly correlated with quality of life and wellbeing and better access to energy therefore opens up broad opportunities for income-producing activities, facilitating the transition of the poor out of poverty,” reads a recent publication by AREI.
In a push for off-grid rural electrification, Tanzania President John Magufuli in June this year, met with people who produce electricity from mini-hydropower they have constructed and supply it to several families in their villages.
He commended them for helping members of their communities to access reliable electricity without having to be supplied from the grid.
In another development the Minister for Energy, Medard Kalemani, met with the Board of Directors of Rural Electrification Agency and urged the urgency to speed up supply of electricity to the rural areas so as to meet the goals of SE4ALL.
The energy balance in Tanzania is dominated by the use of fossil sources. The supply is inefficient and costly while the use of traditional biomass sources such as firewood and charcoal continue to affect the health of consumers through pollution.
Further, the average demand for electricity is growing at between 10 and 15 per cent annually, widening the gap between energy and supply. RE sources and technologies provide an opportunity for the country to break away from this energy trap.