Thursday, September 9, 2010

Creating A Sustainable Energy Future For Africa

Today in Africa there are many people working to make a difference and create a future for the continent that is based on sustainable energy and resource conservation. These dedicated individuals are battling against artificially low energy costs, red tape, and the continuing degradation of lands and resources. Many times their battles are private, and their successes unknown and uncelebrated by any but a small group directly surrounding the projects. But these small kernels of hope have within them a profound ability to affect change in a positive way in Africa and the rest of the world.

Energy in Africa is derived from burning trees, a whopping 91% of the continent gets it's energy in this way. Deforestation is rife, with some countries losing 5 to 7 percent of their trees every year, and its getting worse. This is a loss to everyone on planet Earth, since our oxygen and carbon dioxide know no borders. When forests are destroyed, so are all the animals and rainfall systems that depend on them. In African's search for energy to cook their meals the destruction of her environment is sown. When the trees are gone, rainfall drops, crops whither and die, and more pressure is put on the few intact ecosystems and forests. Any project that seeks to address this spiraling devastation is worth investigating and sharing. Some stand out as examples of "best practice", and I am following these projects and the people behind them in order to share what makes them so successful.

In Johannesburg, the South African company Sunfire Solutions has developed a solar plan: to get out into Africa and distribute solar cookers. If you think these machines are too clumsy, too difficult to use, or hard to set up and maintain, wake up to Africa's energy future and watch this short movie.

These stoves do have problems, the most pressing is their cost. To address this issue, Sunfire Solutions has developed a business model that utilizes private donations, non-governmental organization's (NGO) funding, carbon trading and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Each stove can directly stop eleven tons of CO2 going into the air each year, as well as remove more CO2 from the air by preventing the destruction of Africa's woodlands.

Another problem is their distribution. Crosby Menzies, the Director of Sunfire Solutions is putting together a team to take their solar cookers on the road, traveling from South Africa, to Mozambique then on to Zimbabwe and maybe Malawi. Already they have been distributing their cookers in the Luangwa Valley in Zambia, and have had a great response. A video piece by Tina Stollard is up on their Youtube channel. Along the way they will stop at small and large communities, showing how to use the stoves and distributing as many as they can. They also hope to make contact with NGOs and small businesses in the areas they visit, leaving behind a distribution system that works for the long term.

As a small part of the change that is happening in Africa, Menzies is passionate about what they are doing. He has wagered his own financial future on the success of solar cookers in Africa, and believes that the change he is helping to bring about is vital to the future of the continent.

Traveling around Africa for the last three months working on a Multimedia series with Global Post called Energy Entrepreneurs has opened my eyes to the incredible potential and possibilities that exist here for people with drive, vision and hope. They should be an example to all of us to be the change we most want to see in the world.

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