Power to the people!

Power to the people!

MASERU-THE days when Lesotho used to rely on electricity imports for its needs could soon be over after Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro launched the Ha-Ramarothole Solar Power project two weeks ago.

On its completion, the project is expected to generate 70 megawatts, the same amount of power produced by ’Muela Hydro Power station.
The country is reliant on electricity generated at ’Muela as well as imports from South Africa’s Eskom and Mozambique’s Electricidade de Moçambique.

The ’Muela Hydro Power Station produces about 50 percent of Lesotho’s energy needs, while the other half is imported from South Africa and Mozambique.
This means the Ha-Ramarothole Solar Power project, if successfully implemented, could result in an end to power imports.
The Ha-Ramarothole solar power plant will be erected on a spacious area with plenty of access to sunlight.

At the launch of the project, Dr Majoro said Lesotho is partnering with China to implement the initiative.
A contractor, Tbea-Sinoma Consortium, is already on site to do the job, he said.

“There are a myriad of challenges when electricity is distributed in the country because the demand is higher than what we can offer as a country,” Dr Majoro said, adding that the country would save crucial foreign currency by meeting its own electricity demands.
“Solar energy is also known for being environmentally friendly,” he said.
The first phase of the project, the Prime Minister said, will generate 30 megawatts while the second will generate 40 megawatts.

Dr Majoro said the project will ease unemployment challenges in the area as locals will be recruited during the construction phase.
He said people who lost their land to make way for the project will receive compensation on an annual basis for at least 25 years.
Lesotho has struggled with electricity deficits which have negatively impacted economic growth.

A study by some National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturers published in 2017 noted that “economic growth, financial development, and industrialisation are positively related to electricity consumption in the long-run”.
The study found that Lesotho had been importing almost all of its electricity from Eskom in South Africa since 1969 until the establishment of the ’Muela Hydropower Plant (MHP) in 1998.

However, due to a rise in demand driven by increased electrification of the country, the country was forced to continue importing extra electricity from Eskom and later from Eletricidade de Mozambique following the 2008 electricity crisis.
The study found that in recent years, the country’s peak electricity demand has been rising in tandem with the electrification level, reaching 143 megawatts in 2014.

This led to a peak power deficit of about 50 percent that had to be met through imports.
“Industrial growth demands more energy… thus, energy policymakers in Lesotho should ensure the availability of electricity by promoting efficient energy use and exploring other sources of energy. This could also reduce dependence from relatively costly electricity imports,” according to the study.

Some NUL lecturers led by Molibeli Taele in an article titled ‘Solar energy resources potential and sustainable production of biomass’, said the majority of Lesotho’s population primarily living in rural areas lack a number of facilities because of insufficient access to energy.

The lecturers found that heavy reliance on traditional biomass sources and imported fossil fuels, coupled with the growing demand for electricity, electricity tariff hikes, escalating petrochemical fuel prices and declining wood fuel supplies, call for an urgent emphasis on improving the energy production resource mix through increased use of renewable energy sources, promoting energy efficiency and conservation practices.

“Lesotho has a comparative advantage of renewable energy sources like sun, wind, biomass and hydro, and needs systematic evaluation of these resources and organised planning for using these resources to attain stability in the energy sector,” the lecturers said.

The article also revealed that several indicators point to an energy crisis in Lesotho, which include accelerated deforestation, a biomass energy deficit and deterioration in electricity generation and distribution systems.
“Renewable energy is the solution to Lesotho’s growing energy challenge,” he said.
Another separate study found that solar radiation levels in Lesotho are amongst the highest in the world.

Except on a few days in the rainy season, the sun appears for up to 13 hours a day and most parts of the country get 300 days of sunshine a year.
Despite the great potential, solar energy currently contributes less than one percent to the country’s primary energy and even less to the consumption of commercial energy.

The main obstacle holding back the wide-spread deployment of solar PV is its prohibitive costs in comparison to competing fuels like wood, paraffin, gas and electricity generated from conventional power sources, the study noted.

Currently, the cost of a Solar Home System (SHS) of 20-150 watts is typically between US$22 (about M322) to US$30 (about M440) per peak watt without subsidies, and in the vicinity of US$ 15 (about M220) to US$20 (about M293) per watt for large-scale applications (water pumping, clinics and schools’ electrification, and other productive uses).

This is taking into account that batteries will need to be replaced every two to three years and the charge controller every five years, noted the study.
With recent advancements in solar technology, manufacturing innovations and economies of scale in production, analysts forecast that market conditions in the PV sector will continue to exert strong downward pressure on pricing.

“The trend indicates that solar power may be able to cost-effectively compete with conventional power sources in the immediate future. However, it is not obvious that the BOS costs can be expected to fall dramatically in future, since the processes involved are relatively simple and not likely to undergo rapid technical advance similar to that being made in cell production.”

Despite the apparent advantages of solar power, the community in Ha-Ramorothole is not entirely happy.
Majake Mabele, a villager there, said locals want the government to compensate them for the land which they used for farming but which has now been taken up by the solar projects.

He said many villagers regard the land as their only source of income and food, claiming that only a few people had received some money.
“And that money was not compensation per se but just an appreciation gesture that the people had agreed to part with their fields for the project,” said Mabele.

Mabele said people in the area hope the project will result in job creation as well as a market for small scale businesses “but what people want the most is compensation.”
About five villages under the jurisdiction of the Principal Chief of Likhoele, Chief Lerotholi Seeiso, have been affected by the project.
Mabele said the government had since asked locals to open bank accounts so that they could easily access compensation monies when it becomes ready.

At the beginning of the talks with the government, Mabele said, people were promised that water would be installed for them in return for supporting the project.
“The compensation should be fast-tracked so that we do not cry foul like other communities where the government has never compensated people after appropriating their land,” said Mabele.

The councillor for the area, Sebofi Moeketsi, expressed similar sentiments, saying villagers hoped the government will honour its promise to start processing the compensation in January.

Majara Molupe

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