Tuesday, January 18

How Socio-Economic Conditions Influence Renewable Energy Adoption In Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe sees renewable energy as a game changer for rural development. He sees it as an opportunity to increase access to electricity in rural areas of the country.

Currently, 83% of urban households have access to electricity, compared to 13% of rural households. In general, more than 60% of the population still depend on solid biomass fuel for their thermal needs and do not have access to clean energy sources. Upon twenty% of urban households use wood as their main cooking fuel due to the irresponsible power supply and financial limitations.

the National Renewable Energy Policy 2019 identifies renewable energy as a vehicle to provide electricity to millions of homes. This is similar to what mobile telephony did for telecommunications. It allowed millions of people to have access to the latest technology, generating new development opportunities.

The government of Zimbabwe, foreign donors and private companies are enthusiastically engaging in the notion of renewable energy for rural “development”.

Low-income households are increasingly taking advantage of new decentralized technologies, especially solar, to ensure entry-level lighting. Political elites (the government and international development agencies) consider renewable energy as an appropriate technology that could bring about the desired change, especially since they cause the least damage to the environment. This line of thinking maintains that technology develops autonomously and determines a significant degree of social development.

I tried to understand if the authorities and the intended beneficiaries shared the same harmony with regard to the so-called suitability of renewable energies as a tool for rural development. My research found that they were not. But this reality is often masked, both in Zimbabwe and in other countries.

Similar to the above investigateI found that the top-down approach is limited because it does not take into account the opinions, feelings, and context of the intended beneficiaries. It also doesn’t help that legislators have little understanding of what influences technology adoption and the interplay of supply and demand.

I came to the conclusion that the consumption of renewable energy has a social form. It is the behavior of the intended beneficiary, informed by the social context, that shapes the technology. This is based on how technology fits, or not, in sustaining their livelihoods. Therefore, the development of the energy sector should not be reduced to technological sophistication. It should be guided by the improvements it makes to the livelihoods of the intended beneficiaries.

Need, not choice

I interviewed rural villagers from the Buhera district, Manicaland province, southeastern Zimbabwe, NGOs, and key informants for my study. I captured the views of those expected to benefit from renewable energy technology.

I found that the intended beneficiaries were less optimistic about the benefits of renewable energy technology compared to the government. Political, economic and social factors such as unequal income distribution and gender dynamics determined the adoption of renewable energies.

I found that the adoption of renewable energy in Zimbabwe was driven by need, not choice. Key informants in my study said that people in urban areas were consuming renewable energy due to recurring power outages. Rural communities, on the other hand, do not have access to electricity. So they turn to renewable energy. This is not because they see renewable energy as appropriate, as the government believes. It is your only alternative access to energy.

The irony is that the government does not understand this complexity and is proud to implement decentralized small renewable energy technologies, especially in rural areas.

When asked how solar energy is helping them cope with energy poverty, one participant said:

Solar energy is not electricity …

Another elaborate:

Rather we need the actual electricity from the grid.

Rural people also want energy to increase their livelihoods, not just lighting. the common Renewable energy technology in rural areas is solar, mainly in the form of solar lanterns. Beyond a solar lantern, most poor households cannot afford solar home systems. This sociological dynamic widens the gap between rich and poor.

Renewable energy absorption is a class issue. Having light without a livelihood makes no difference in the lives of the poor. The seemingly illogical rejection of better technology is determined by context.

This rejection has a gender dimension. in a previous studyI found that women were more resentful of solar energy than men. Even those with solar home systems felt the technology was not adequate because their heating needs were not being met. For example, households could not use electric kettles, iron or cook unless there was an additional heat source because one solar panel was not enough to meet all of these needs.

As a result, women continue to search for firewood and cook over smoky fires even where there are solar home systems. This defeats the goal of appropriate technology.

Skeptical investors

There are other dynamics at play as well. Most local investors were skeptical about renewables because the intended beneficiaries, who are mainly people from rural areas, are poor and have no financial security. And even if renewable energy were to be fed on the network: the network itself has been designed primarily to serve urban areas and large commercial farms. Inevitably, the expanded flow of electricity will bypass the rural poor on the way to connected areas.

Renewable energy technologies do not exist in a vacuum. Factors already at play stand out. Therefore, earnings-driven market dynamics and inequality inherent in current electricity processes distribution will remain.

I also discovered that some employees at the energy company viewed renewable energy as a competitor to conventional energy sources. A key informant in my study, an employee of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, said:

… I am electricity and I cannot promote my competitor [sic]. To some extent, renewables are our competitors … If you’re not careful, they will take our business away, unfortunately my bread is buttered to electricity. [sic] and not solar …

Once again, the profit comes first before the usefulness of this technology. Renewable energy is not understood in the context of what it successfully achieves, but in how it threatens traditional monopoly regimes in the power sector.

This is not unique to Zimbabwe. A significant proportion of 36 nationals Utilities surveyed for the African Development Bank Electricity Index Report He cited the threat to profitability posed by the increasing use of renewable energy technologies.

Who should use renewable energy?

Even the smallest home solar system is cost prohibitive for the rural poor. They also need technical and maintenance skills, which rural communities do not have. It is the elite in urban areas (companies, shopping centers) that have the capacity. Therefore, renewable energy should not be sold as an alternative to the poor. For rural communities, it is only a stopgap solution until they can access the network.

The use of renewable energy technology must be built into social processes. Which means that technology should not be seen as coming from elsewhere to have an impact on society. Rather, it should be taken as an internal development shaped by its social context because it is people who approve or disapprove of the technology.The conversation

Thelen Fungisai Chipango, Post-doctoral research fellow, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.


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