By David Ashton
I am back on a visit to my previous home, Zimbabwe, which is in a mess. The electricity is off around 50% of the time (it was better over Christmas, but off for 24 hours when I arrived a week before). A lot of Zimbabwe’s power comes from Karibahydro-electricdam on the Zambesi River, but due to low rainfall and bad maintenance there’s not much at the moment. Most people have not had municipal water for a couple of years, and a lot of people have boreholes (that’s “bore” in Australian), and either a water tank on stilts or a booster pump. Most of the main roads are not too bad, but almost all suburban roads are full of potholes. The local joke runs that the drivers going straight are drunk, the sober ones are weaving to avoid the potholes. But these conditions force everyone to be “green”.
Everyone has solar panels on their roof, and an inverter in the garage. These are not “grid connect inverters” as we know them in Australia. These inverters charge a battery bank using mains and/or solar power, and you can run a fridge, some lights, a TV and even your water pump when the power is off.
In the rural areas people use solar power for their houses and irrigation systems and the like – vastly improving their quality of life.
Another thing you see on almost every roof in town is a solar water heater. The types used are modern, using tubes coming out of the reservoir. They can be used stand-alone or with electrical power backup, so that even on very cold mornings you will still get reasonably hot water. On a sunny day the water will heat to 60 degrees C or more, but they will still give you adequate hot water on all but the cloudiest days. Prices for these are very reasonable – a 100 litre one was US$395 – that’s a bit under AU$ 600. When I get back, I’ll look at getting one on my house in Bathurst, though I don’t expect prices like that!
All in all, I have been impressed at how Zimbabweans are using renewable energy to overcome the problems with the country’s infrastructure. Sure, due to the circumstances they are forced to be green, but it goes to show how renewables can be used to substitute for other energy sources.
David Ashton is a member of BCCAN. A version of this story first appeared in The Western Advocate on January 13, 2024.