| Boiling Point No. 29 - December 1992 |
Extracts from "Efficiency, Energy & Environment. Notes on Designing an Energy Policy for Zimbabwe"
by ETC (UK), October 1990
A New Energy Agenda for Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe's environmental problem is, at heart, a development problem, or rather a problem of the lack of development. Without development, Zimbabwe's problems will grow. Population growth, without development, will encourage an increasing level of exploitation of resources on a non-renewable basis and environmental deterioration will accelerate. Thus, Zimbabwe needs development but not indiscriminate development; it needs sustainable development.
A key element in this development process is the increasing demand for energy. Although this energy will be used more efficiently, overall energy consumption will increase. But the laws of thermodynamics clearly indicate that all energy use will have an environmental impact. Current patterns of use lead to deforestation and land degradation which is linked to non-sustainable use of land resources and environment. In addition, there are the health problems associated with the use of biomass fuels, air pollution problems associated with the use of coal and oil, and water and solid waste problems associated with energy expansion. The increase in energy use will accelerate environmental problems. To counteract this, Zimbabwe requires an energy system designed to minimise environmental impact while maximising development potential.
To minimise environmental damage, to move towards enhancement of energy services, the focus needs to be on development in terms of efficiency, renewable resources and self-reliance in energy consumption. The need is to look at present trends and from these trends derive a different way of looking et the problem of energy. Essentially this means adopting an end- use approach, specified by rural and urban function, by considering existing energy resources before moving to consider the environmental impacts of more sound alternative options. Such an approach will demand institutional changes.
The Environmental Implications of Development Trends
Demographic pressure, especially urbanisation, is one of the dominant issues in determining future Zimbabwean resource use. Total population growth rate is over 2 % per annum, leading to rapid extension of cultivation and grazing area. This, together with increased demand for woodfuel, leads to deforestation and land degradation.
Urban growth rates are the lead edge of demographic pressure. In Zimbabwe, urban growth rates are at least treble the national population growth rate. This population growth is largely fuelled by rural migration although, increasingly, population growth in the towns themselves is accelerating the population increase.
Increased urban demand for fuel occurs largely in the household sector. The household sector and the rapidly expanding informal manufacturing sector are dominated by woodfuel and charcoal consumption.
Woody biomass meets up to 85% of total energy requirements in low income rural areas. Agricultural and animal residues arc less important as household fuels except in semi-arid areas where woodfuel is scarce. The maintenance of existing household energy strategies, largely wood based, can create specific sites of deforestation which, in turn, implies problems of land degradation.
Land degradation is currently driven by the expansion of agriculture into natural woodlands but, increasingly, urban energy demand, particularly for charcoal, will accelerate whole tree removal. The loss of tree cover reduces canopy protection and can accelerate rates of soil erosion and degradation. It is difficult to turn this problem around by focusing on direct wood production for energy - costs of wood energy supply are high and "free" woody biomass is still available from natural forests. There are, however, examples of wood production; increasing with population growth and agricultural intensification not least because of the demand for construction poles. Incorporating wood energy - as a residue - into discussion of forestry projects is clearly a way forward.
Environmental Impact of Supply Options
Coal: Sub-Saharan coal resources are chiefly located in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. Currently Zimbabwe has the most developed coal industry for both direct industrial use (including agriculture) and for electricity generation. A potential for coal exports exists.
The environmental impacts of coal are many. With surface mining there is destruction of vegetation and interruption to natural drainage and land-use. Water consumption is increased and this can cause supply problems and a lowering of water tables in arid and semi-arid areas. With deep mining there are surface spoil heaps with potential erosion effects. Mine drainage can acidify surface watercourses: subsidence of the land surface as a result of roof falls can lead to land drainage problems and a loss of agricultural productivity.
Coal consumption does significantly contribute to global warming but Zimbabwe's contribution to the world's coal emissions of greenhouse gases is very small, about 1-2%. AU developing countries contribute only 12% of CO2 emissions compared with 27% for North America alone.
Coal combustion also leads to the emission of gases such as sulphur dioxide (SO2) associated with the acid rain problem. This is a minor environmental issue in Zimbabwe.
Oil and Natural Gas: A fuel switch in power generation and in industrial use, from coal to oil and in particular to natural gas, would produce a reduction in the rate of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Gas has larger recoverable reserves and could largely replace oil in electricity generation by 2020. A fuel switch in Zimbabwe of urban households to kerosene for cooking and lighting would reduce carbon dioxide emissions as wood and charcoal combustion gives off up to five times more carbon dioxide per unit of energy. A fuel switch in urban informal manufacturing and service activities away from wood and charcoal towards liquid fuels or electricity would similarly reduce the rate of emission of greenhouse gases. However, Zimbabwe's modest global contribution to this environmental problem should always be borne in mind.
Woody Biomass: Woody biomass is the dominant fuel in Zimbabwe. No realistic substitute can be envisaged for rural Zimbabwe. For the rapidly growing urban population, the transition to higher order fuels will not completely replace the consumption of wood and charcoal in urban households and in the informal manufacturing and service sectors.
Wood has about five times the carbon dioxide content of the equivalent calorific value of coal. The burning of wood as fuel therefore, together with burning of woodland for agricultural developments, contributes directly to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
On a small scale, the combustion of wood in primitive earth kilns, for conversion to charcoal, is associated with a series of environmental impacts. Roots and seedlings are destroyed, liquid and gaseous emissions occur and the associated deforestation can lead to soil deterioration and reduced agricultural yields. The reduction of available woody biomass, by deforestation, reduces the absorption of carbon dioxide by vegetation during the process of photosynthesis. Vegetation, together with the oceans, are the two major global carbon sinks. The progressive destruction of woody biomass therefore exacerbates the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is through this positive mechanism of maintaining woody biomass that Zimbabwe's contribution to the greenhouse solution needs to be examined.
Because of the inherent inefficiency of production of woody biomass by photosynthesis, demand is likely to exceed supply in Zimbabwe unless:
on the supply side, biomass is provided by the development of sustainable, multi-purpose land uses, with trees planted for a variety of end-uses such as fodder, fruit, shade, poles, as well as for fuel.
• on the demand side, woodfuel/charcoal are con sumed more efficiently by the use of improved stoves which could lead to a four-fold increase in energy efficiency.
Hydro-electric power: Hydro-electric power development through the impoundment of rivers can have substantial environmental impacts. The effect of large storage dams can tee immense. They displace settlements and disrupt social relations, they modify agricultural and transport patterns; and they affect health conditions in local areas.
There are alternatives to large hydro-power schemes, such as the production of electricity from low head, micro-scale, hydro installations. But the long-term demand for electricity in Zimbabwe is likely to cause hydro-electric power expansion using large dams. Financing of such schemes needs to incorporate the costs of measures to mitigate environmental impacts and to compensate for social disruption.
New and Renewable Sources of Energy (NARSE): Three NARSE appear to offer the most realistic supplements to fossil fuels and biomass in Zimbabwe, namely solar power, particularly through the use of photovoltaics; wind-power, particularly windmills for the pumping of groundwater or for raising water into fields for irrigation; and micro-hydro schemes.
The establishment of photovoltaic plants, whereby sunlight is converted directly into electricity by transforming photons of light into electricity, has had very minor environmental impacts in teens of loss of amenity. Windmills, especially if arranged in groups or parks, can be intrusive visually; noise is created and on occasions it can interfere with radio communication. Micro-hydro schemes, with outputs of less than 100 KW, present few environmental problems. In each case, electricity produced by these methods is seen as supplying isolated niche demands, rather than contributing to integrated power grid systems.
Zimbabwe's energy future is likely to be dominated by an expansion in absolute and relative terms of coal and kerosene. In absolute terms, wood consumption will also increase. With these fuel supplies, emphasis must be on efficient, least-cost provision coupled with minimum environmental disruption.
The building of energy policies for Zimbabwe must be based on a development strategy that strives for growth. This growth, however, must be sustainable in environmental and economic teens.
The need for a new policy direction is clear. Falling commodity prices, mounting debts and restructuring programmes have set a new economic climate. Furthermore, better understanding of the environmental impacts of energy use, at both local and global levels, requires a radical departure from traditional policy approaches.
A critical issue for energy policy is the structure of the institutions responsible for energy policy formulation and implementation. The following basic principles for institutions can be identified:
Institutions must be responsive to energy demand. This requires an end-use approach in which energy production capabilities are driven off defined needs.
Institutions must contain effective channels for the participation of energy users and providers in the planning process. In particular, they must allow effective bottom-up participation in all stages of planning for local communities who are the in tended beneficiaries of energy projects.
Institutions must permit multi-sectoral cooperation. It is expected that energy ministries will continue to take a lead role in the planning process, but in many cases other institutions (and in particular ones with extension, and therefore, environmental capabilities) will be the most appropriate executing agency.
The principles of sustainability, in environmental, economic and institutional terms, must be fully integrated into the procedures of energy planning institutions.
The role of the state as a facilitator means that effective decentralisation in which control over local resources is given to local communities is needed.
Energy planning must be more flexible, frequently seeking indirect strategies and building a partner ship between local communities and planning institutions. Central to this is the integration of indigenous technical knowledge into planning.
Energy planning institutions must realise that there is rarely a single technical or economic answer to energy questions. Nor is there a single institution with responsibility for all energy questions. Energy technology choice is essentially a policy choice. High on the list of policy choices must be commitment to environmental maintenance.
Environment and Development - the Energy Connection
To date, Zimbabwe's development has been based upon an increasing supply of energy. The extraction, transformation and distribution of energy for human consumption can be identified as a major contributor towards environmental degradation. It is also accepted that development to date has tended to grossly neglect the real costs of energy resources. In the main this is because these costs as opposed to benefits have been to the `'Commons" and thus not registered by the instruments of economic measurement.
For historical reasons Zimbabwe has come late onto the development stage and by any measurement lags behind the rest of the world. Zimbabwe cannot be expected to pay the same price as the rest of the world for what is becoming increasingly understood as the environmental price of development. At the same time it cannot be denied development.
To minimise the environmental cost of development, & perhaps even enhance the environment, energy policy must be focused on defined development goals aiming to achieve efficiency of energy production, equity in access to energy resources (to ensure basic needs satisfaction) and a continuous striving towards self-reliance in energy provision at local and national levels.