“Botswana, why don’t you love me?” – Renewable Energy

Botswana, lovingly described as Africa’s come-back kid has boasted of rapid economic growth, re-investment into its people through sponsored education, adequate government housing and low paying taxes. It was near a picture-perfect image of an Africa we want.

However, all the nation boasted for had a time period. Botswana’s golden years were truly between 1980 into the late 1990’s, a reflection of the global economy and the harnessing the global demand of feeding into opulent materialism which we profited from: the diamond.

The country’s major focus on exporting diamond as well as a few other non-renewable resources, had the government focused on eating the current fruits of the billions of dollars that diamonds bring, instead of looking into long-term sustainable methods of growing the economy, and boosting grassroot economic activity. This mindset is a symptom of why yet and still, we haven’t looked into a more sustainable form of keeping the nation’s lights on.

Though Botswana is still regarded as one of the top twenty nations in Africa where citizens access electricity on a regular basis (according to Afrobarometer, Botswana is ranked 12th in the continent and 3rd in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region) rolled out power cuts are now ingrained in the country’s pulsating culture.

According to Power Africa, 66% of Botswana’s population have access to electricity. 54% of the rural population have access to electricity while 65% of urban population can keep their lights on. While this may seem like pleasing numbers to many, the Government had targeted 82% of electricity access by 2016 and shoot to 100% by 2030. However, the core focus of non-renewable resource such as coal to serve as the backbone of electricity provision is not only unsustainable, but counterproductive as it contravenes with SDG 13.

On a grassroots level, when electricity is cut – so is life. Small businesses, large entities, homes and schools have placed electricity in high regard. If anything, electricity is the heart beat of society in urban settlements. Since 2008, continuous power cuts have affected many entrepreneurs, students and large entities.

Typically, power cuts would be prolonged in densely populated areas in Gaborone, Botswana’s Capital. The bustling whistles of hair dryers in hair salons and keyboard clicks of internet cafes in African mall, found in the heart of Gaborone are typically plagued by the silence of a power cut. Meaning no business for the day. When power cuts become a regular occurrence in most of these spaces customers lost trust in the business and take their money elsewhere, which becomes a reason for a lot of small businesses to close shop.

With power cuts directly affecting small micro and medium enterprises (SMMEs), a sector which is the backbone of the country’s aid to unemployment, Botswana’s requirement for constant electricity proves to be even more significant.

Currently, electricity is provided by Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) which has four major power plants all fueled by fire coal. Over the years, the country relied on South Africa to outsource their energy to them, which did seem like a cheap solution in the 1960’s until South Africa decided to slowly cut the umbilical cord.

With its current power plants churning hundreds of thousands of megawatts, yet failing to supply the nation with adequate electricity, Botswana is sleeping on an opportunity to efficiently and sustainably provide electricity to its people.

My country, well-known for its extra hot summers and apologetically warm winters sits on direct normal irradiation (DNI) of 3000kwh/m2/year. DNI is the basic amount of solar radiation received per unit area in an environment, determined by sun rays angled at a straight line to the ground. Botswana’s DNI is one of the highest globally, which means that renewable energy, though capital-intensive, can be one of the greatest investments the country could make on a long-term basis.

Botswana is hot. I mean truly, scorching – with temperatures in winter averaging at 25 degrees Celsius and 40 degrees in the Summer, a silver lining is utilizing such eat as a source of power for electricity. I imagine fields of solar power panels serving as plants for distribution for the country – served to phase out the reliance of coal, a power source which doesn’t serve to only harm our environment but could also save on water usage – a very scarce resource in my home.

I believe if my government was truly infatuated with the idea of sustainable development they could explore the ideas of renewable energy, having solar power as a front-runner.