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General News of Sunday, 31 August 2014

Source: standard-tribune.com

Renewable energy gains popularity in Cameroon

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Many are seeking solutions elsewhere to overcome the country’s perpetual power cuts.

Cameroon’s main cities are increasingly facing interruptions of power supply from the American electricity company, AES-SONEL – the only electricity provider for the country’s 20 million people.

Within the last two years, several main markets and government buildings across the country have been razed by fires linked to disruptive power supply.

Hospitals like the Presbyterian general hospital Tugi – one of Cameroon’s best medical centers created in 1964, still depends on kerosene as its main energy source.

“Without kerosene lamps we will not successfully carry out surgical operations at night. We cannot accurately read thermometers and syringes at night without holding up our kerosene lamps in one hand,” says Rose Adeneng, a nurse at the hospital.

The situation is worse when health workers assist women during childbirth, says Adeneng.

“Kerosene pours out from lamps most often as we struggle to pull out the child with one hand while holding out lamps with the other.”

Hospital Administrator George Fonkem Tankem says most pregnant women prefer giving birth at home than risk being beaten by snakes that hide in hospital rooms.

Seeking alternatives to hydroelectricity has been a debate in Cameroonian homes. “My four children died in a fire outbreak sparked from a burning candle. They were asleep in their room when the fire started,” says Mveng Antoine Marie, a family head in Douala, Cameroon’s economic hub.

Mveng, 54, blames their death on rampant hydroelectric power failures and has decided to use solar energy in his newly constructed home.

Many Cameroonians who complained about the cost of buying petrol-powered generators have switched to solar energy and wind turbines – cheap, clean and safe alternative energy sources to hydroelectricity.

“With less than $400, you will be able to effectively run your home with solar panels and wind turbines,” says Fozao Denis, a promoter of renewable energy in Cameroon.

According to one of a growing number of users Mola Otto Samuel, solar panels have saved him as much as USD 100$ monthly since he stopped using hydroelectricity.

Mola, 43, says he formally received AES-SONEL invoices more regularly than its services.

“In the past, I could stay for several months without electricity. But they never failed in sending me unpaid invoices. Now my wife no longer purchases cooking gas. We use the solar energy to cook food,” Mola said happily while touching his brand-new solar panel fastened to the roof.

Government embraces Solar Panel Since 2011 when the government stopped the panels from 19.25 percent value-added tax, more than 12 percent of Cameroon homes run on solar energy, according to the Ministry of Mines, Water and Energy.

Cities like Buea, the regional capital of the Southwest of Cameroon have replaced several hydroelectric-powered streetlights with solar-powered ones.

According to Mbella Moki Charles, a senator, the city even looks brighter without cables crisscrossing at every corner of the town.

“Buea is now one of Cameroon’s most innovative cities for its solar panels,” says Mbella.

Like in other regions, Chinese engineers have been partnering with the government to light up streets using solar energy.

“See how Yaoundé has been transformed remarkably. Take a look at the Soa road and see how marvelous solar panels could be,” says Kevin Enongene Enongene, a climate change researcher.

Several licensed companies and environmental NGOs in Cameroon are educating citizens on the need to source for renewable, clean, safe and cheap energy.

“More than 80 percent of Cameroonians live on less than USD1$ a day. How do you expect them to regularly feed their families and at the same time pay their electricity invoices? We must encourage solar energy which is environmentally friendly,” says Amin Ashu Tantang, a senior official in the ministry of mines, water and energy.

More than 30 NGOs registered in Cameroon including Go 100percent.org and the Society for Initiatives in Rural Development and Environmental Protection (SIRDEP) are leading a campaign to provide solar energy for free in less empowered and marginalized villages.

SIRDEP says economic development is thwarted in Cameroon due to its intermittent and disruptive power source. There is no reliable and steady energy supply, SIRDEP officials insist.

A 4 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic system could produce around 6,150 kW per year in Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region. But the region suffers wide-spread marginalization for its opposition stance to the regime, according to political analysts.

Advantages of Solar Panels Energy experts say Cameroon’s solar resource can provide greater benefits and energy production than both Germany and California. Already entire villages in Ngaoundere, the regional capital of North Cameroon are reaping the benefits of solar energy harnessed by the University of Ngaoundere.

“For the first time, I can store drugs in a refrigerator. In the past, we dug the earth to keep the drugs cold and fresh,” says Dr Ngwana Charles, a medical practitioner in Garoua-Boulai, a disfavored locality in Cameroon on the benefit of solar panels.

“I find it very easy operating a patient at night. It’s simple; power by the solar panels.”

Mobile phone ownership has risen and villagers are facilitating trade with mobile phone, according to a village head Sambang Soly Nsono.

Sambang says villagers find it easy to recharge their phones with solar energy and points to a cyber café also powered by solar energy.

“Even AES-SONEL blames erratic power supply on droughts, urban sprawl and climate change. Solar energy has reduced the demands for energy in Cameroon,” says Amin Edward Tang.

Climate change affects hydro energy Within the Congo Basin, Cameroon is ranked second in deforestation after the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 200,000 hectares of Cameroon’s rainforest is lost every year.

“The energy of Cameroon is produced through hydro energy. Major rivers like Sanaga are drying up faster and can no longer supply the nation with the required energy. Climate change is real and we must exploit solar energy.

If we do not adapt and mitigate the effect of climate change faster, it will be dangerous for us,” says UNFCCC Focal Point for Cameroon Joseph Amarthe Amougou.

According to Louis Deffo, WWF Programme Manager for Ngoyla-Mintom, Cameroon, the European Union is one of the major donors conserving the forest by paying local and indigenous peoples who depend on it for a livelihood.

Deffo says preserving the forest is the most sustainable way to fight climate change.

Nearly 70 percent of Cameroon’s rural population lack electricity and depends on the forest for charcoal.

“We must integrate the less empowered and marginalized people in our sustainable development policies. Under the Reduction of Emission from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism, people, government and communities will be paid for conserving the forest that holds a huge carbon potential,” says Fobissie Blese Kalame, WWF Central Africa Climate Change Coordinator.

In 2010, Cameroon recorded one of its deadliest floods in several decades, ushering a nation-wide cholera outbreak that claimed thousands of lives.

Experts have blamed rampant floods in the country on climate change.

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