Solar water heating – solution to SADC’s energy challenges

by Joseph Ngwawi
Southern Africa is turning to solar energy as it takes steps to address challenges caused by shortages of electricity afflicting most countries in the region.

Regarded as one of Africa’s “sunbelts” and endowed with one of the world’s best solar radiation zones, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is intensifying efforts to harness the potential provided by solar energy.

One such initiative is the Southern African Solar Thermal Training and Demonstration Initiative (SOLTRAIN), a regional initiative on capacity building and demonstration of solar thermal systems in the SADC region.

The main objective of the project is to help wean the southern African region from the use of environmentally unfriendly fossil fuels and promote usage of renewable energies, with focus on solar water heating.

The focus on solar thermal or heating systems is deliberate because solar radiation levels in SADC are high, and these systems can readily be manufactured or assembled in the region.

Solar thermal systems such as solar water heating have a huge potential to alleviate problems of unemployment, power supply shortages, high energy costs, and pollution.

Started in 2009 with support from the Austrian Development Agency and the OPEC Fund for International Development, the initiative has benefited five countries during the first two phases – Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

SOLTRAIN Project Coordinator, Werner Weiss said the first phase ran from May 2009 to August 2012 while the current second phase began in November 2012 and is expected to be completed at the end of February 2016.

Weiss told a conference held in Johannesburg, South Africa in early February that the first two phases of the project had four focus areas.

These were to raise awareness about the potential of solar heating technology in the SADC region; build competence in production of solar heating technology; create discussion and lobby platforms in participating countries; and establish demonstration project to show that the technology works.

“Between 2009 and 2015 about 2,150 people were trained in 80 training courses,” Weiss said.

He revealed that some 187 small- to large-scale solar heating systems were installed during the first and second phase of SOLTRAIN.

The applications of these systems range from small-scale thermosiphon systems for single family houses to medium-sized systems for industrial and commercial applications.

Some of the demonstration projects were installed at food and beverage companies that require a lot of hot water for their operations.

South Africa has the largest number of installed solar heating systems with 85 beneficiaries at breweries, abattoirs, orphanages, hospitals, retirement homes and tertiary institutions. It is followed by Namibia which has 71 solar water heater installations at a low-cost government housing project, restaurants and tertiary institutions.

Zimbabwe has the third highest number of beneficiaries at 19 projects, followed by Lesotho with 10 and Mozambique with two projects.

According to Weiss, the third phase of the programme will commence in March and will see the initiative being expanded to include Botswana as the sixth country. The phase will run until July 2019.

The third phase of the project will see implementation of roadmaps developed by participating countries.

Three of the participating countries have developed roadmaps. These are Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.

The roadmaps outline the strategies and targets set by the countries and to be met by 2030.

For example, Mozambique plans to install at least one million solar water heaters in residential areas by 2030 as well as more than 30,000 in hotels and other tourism establishments and 15,000 in public institutions such as government offices, hospitals and schools by the same period.

The South African roadmap shows that the country plans to install at least eight million high pressure and low pressure solar water geysers in residential areas over the next 14 years.

To encourage and promote the widespread implementation of solar water heating, The South African Department of Energy, through power utility Eskom, has rolled out a large-scale solar water heating programme.

The programme assists consumers by giving them rebates after buying approved solar water heaters to replace conventional geysers.

Namibia also has equally ambitious targets to install solar thermal systems in residential areas, tourism facilities, hospitals and office blocks by 2030.

This will include more than 200,000 installations in houses and at least 343 at hospitals and clinics around the country.

Even participating countries without roadmaps have their own targets to upscale the deployment of solar heating systems.

The Zimbabwean government announced in January 2016 that it is set to launch a national Solar Water Heating Programme (SWHP) by March which aims to install and retrofit 250,000 solar geysers over the next five years.

This development comes as the government has begun making legislative amendments to ban the use of electric geysers in the country which could save an estimated 300 to 400 megawatts of power on the national grid.

Energy and Power Development Minister Samuel Undenge said preparations for the SWHP were at an advanced stage.

He said concerted efforts were underway to gazette appropriate legislation to enforce the new solar water heating standards, looking at reviewing building by-laws.

The programme would compel all new housing programmes to ensure that solar heaters become mandatory at every new house before connection to the grid, with incentives being put in place.