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Namibia forges ahead with renewable energies

Avatar of inke inke - 25. January 2019 - Economics, Environment

The solar panels at Gondwana’s Namib Desert Lodge cover fifty percent of the lodge’s energy needs.

Brigitte Weidlich

Spending a night in the African bush under the stars away from the city and listening to the sounds of various nocturnal animals is a magical experience. It is unforgettable to watch wild animals at a water hole where no noisy diesel generator disturbs the peace and quiet. In recent years solar water pumps and electricity generated by solar panels have replaced loud, puffing diesel generators at many lodges in Namibia, thereby enhancing the African experience for visitors.

Namibia’s hot dry climate and abundant sunshine for over 300 days per year make it an ideal spot to harness the energy of the sun. Up to 2,200 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per square metre annually are recorded in the country. 

The road towards renewable energy sources in Namibia was long and took off after the country’s independence. Today solar and wind power are now officially part of the country’s energy mix and there are exciting developments in this sector. Since a few years, all newly constructed government buildings must be fitted with solar water heaters (SWHs). The largest assembly of solar panels for SWHs can be seen on the rooftop of the Windhoek Central Hospital in Katutura.

Electricity peak demand at 650 MW

Namibia’s peak energy demand currently stands at around 650 megawatt (MW) per day. The country has an installed capacity of 557 MW, with 332 MW provided by the Ruacana hydro power plant along the Kunene River and 120 MW by the ageing coal-fired Van Eck power station in Windhoek. It currently only supplies a maximum of 90 MW. There are also two small diesel power stations (Paratus and Anixas) in Walvis Bay. 

The Ruacana power station mainly runs at full capacity during the rainy season when the Kunene River carries more water. The situation has improved recently after the Calueque storage dam on the river a few kilometres into southern Angola was restored. As a result the hydropower station now receives a more steady inflow for its four turbines.

Namibia generates 59 percent of its electricity needs and still imports some 41 percent of its power supply mainly from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Namibia also trades electricity with the latter two countries. The government wants to reduce imports and increase local generation capacity through renewable energy sources. This policy is also part of Namibia’s national climate change strategy and action plan (2013-2020) submitted to the United Nations. 

The state-owned power utility NamPower is leading by example and installed a solar power system on the roof if its headquarters in Windhoek. Photo: NamPower

Power harnessed from the sun

Already some 70 MW of electricity for the national power grid come from small photovoltaic (PV) plants with solar panels outside several towns like Arandis, Omaruru, Okahandja, Otjiwarongo, Otavi, Rehoboth and Tsumeb generating 5 MW each. More such PV plants are in the pipeline. They are constructed by independent power producers (IPP) who sell the electricity to the state-owned Namibian power corporation NamPower. Construction of the largest solar power plant of 32-MW outside Mariental in southern Namibia is nearing completion. 

In his update at the end of 2018 on the country’s power supply, Minister Alweendo said that another 70 MW will be added by 2020 from renewable energy sources. “This will be split up into 20 MW solar and 50 MW wind energy”, Alweendo said. “In total, 19 independent power producers have signed power purchasing agreements with NamPower so far to supply a total of 175.5 MW from renewable energy sources by 2020”, Alweendo said.

Farms in Namibia use wind power since many decades to draw water from boreholes. Photo: Shutterstock

Wind power from Lüderitz

Wind power has been known to farmers and rural people in Namibia for many decades with the characteristic high structures at boreholes and water basins with a windmill attached to the top. A new chapter opened in the country’s energy supply history when the first small wind farm was constructed at the coast outside Lüderitz. The Ombepo plant, inaugurated in 2018 and still in its initial stage, produces 5 MW. The electricity is fed into the national grid.

Ombepo means ‘wind’ in the local Otjiherero language. The plant was constructed by a French company, with the Lüderitz municipality as minority shareholder in the company. The wind turbines are 80 metres high and are fitted with three blades of 45.3 m long each. Generators driving the turbines weigh 65.7 tonnes each.

The first of five 80m high turbines of the Ombepo wind farm 9km outside Lüderitz was successfully installed. Photo: Innovent

Private initiatives gain ground

More private households are installing solar water heaters and solar panels on their roofs to reduce electricity costs and to make use of the opportunity to either reduce their electricity bill or to sell their surplus electricity to their municipality by means of a feed-in tariff. Supermarkets and shopping centres in several Namibian towns have PV systems installed on their roofs to save on electricity costs, including the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, as well as NamPower. Many tourism lodges are following suit, with the added benefit of a quiet environment. Diesel generators are only used as a backup.

Innovative solutions regarding renewable energy are nothing new to the local tourism company Gondwana Collection Namibia. Well known for its sustainability concepts the tourism company has already mounted solar panels on the roofs of its Namib Desert Lodge in 2014. After the success of this pilot project, the Gondwana Group installed more solar panels at three more lodges: The Desert Grace, Kalahari Farmhouse and Kalahari Anib Lodge. Gondwana’s ‘solarisation’ process continues in full swing. The existing solar plants cover fifty percent of the energy needs of each lodge. There is, however, something special about the solar panels on the roofs of the parking place at the Kalahari Anib Lodge: these panels produce electricity on both sides. 

The first solar-powered electric vehicle in Namibia was imported by Conrad Roedern in early 2018, a retired engineer who established one of the first solar installation companies in Namibia about 30 years ago.

Solar taxis in the making

The Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) has started a cross-disciplinary research project to develop a Namibian Solar Electric Utility Vehicle (NSEUV), or solar taxi. The first few prototypes were designed and created by mostly students at the university’s Innovation Design Lab (IDL). The solar taxi is set to be patented soon. The goal is to manufacture the taxis in Namibia and South Africa, with the support of European expertise. The current prototype can transport four adults with a maximum load of 320kg. Solar energy is collected on the taxi’s roof and stored in lithium batteries at the back. The batteries allow a driving range of 100 km before having to be swapped with freshly-charged batteries. The taxi has a top speed of 55 km per hour.

The solar taxi prototype developed by students of the Namibia University of Science and Technology drew lots of attention at the Windhoek show grounds. Photo: NUST

Namibia hosts regional energy centre 

A regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE) was launched in Windhoek in October 2018. In 2015, the energy ministers of the 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) agreed to establish a body to coordinate renewable energy and energy efficiency matters in the region. Namibia offered to host the centre. SACREEE will draft and execute several programmes and projects in cooperation with partners like the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the European Union and the Swedish International Cooperation and Development Agency (SIDA). The centre was established with technical assistance of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). The Austrian Development Agency provided financial assistance. 

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