A wake-up call to embrace solar power

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Renewable energy is energy from a source that does not run out when used, such as wind or solar power. It is clean energy that comes from natural sources.

Africa is endowed with many natural resources, one of them being solar energy, which is available for most of the year. Since time immemorial, solar energy has been used for various daily activities such as: drying crops after harvest; drying fish, vegetables and meat for preservation; to dry the laundry; provide warmth in cold weather; and at the same time be a natural source of vitamin D.

With the invention of hydroelectric power, rudimentary solar power was abandoned. But now we’re taking it back due to the high cost of generating hydroelectric power – compounded by years of drought that have negatively impacted water levels in dams and lakes, which are the main sources of generation. of hydroelectricity.

Thick forests have also suffered, as people clear land for firewood and charcoal and develop unplanned industries, towns and residential areas. Inevitably, deserts encroach due to indiscriminate felling of trees, clearing of land, poor farming methods like cultivating river banks, and wanton destruction of forests and wetlands – all contributing to climate change and its negative effects.

Saying “Climate change is a global problem with serious implications,“Pope Francis is calling on all of us to take care of our ‘common home.’ This is a wake-up call, not just to think outside the box, but to roll up our sleeves and take action against environmental destruction.

And one of the practical ways is to embrace solar power and other “smart” energy sources. When one is in a comfort zone, the mind becomes inactive, but when discomfort emerges, one is compelled to look for alternatives. Our story is a concrete example of this reality!

For a long time, Zimbabwe, in the southern region of Africa, has been experiencing massive power cuts. The causes have been many, but at the top of the list are severe dry spells and droughts resulting in low water levels making it impossible to generate adequate hydroelectric power.

Like the rest of the country’s population, our community at Our Lady’s Convent, Kingsdale, Bulawayo – the main house and retreat house of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood in the Zimbabwe-Zambia Province – has been greatly affected by severe power outages. We were entirely dependent on hydroelectric power, the availability of which was sporadic, with many hours of load shedding.

Electricity bills rose every month, becoming unsustainable due to a national rate of hyperinflation. Threats to cut off the power supply to our institution have become an unpleasant and energy-consuming song. It was the last straw! We had to look for a durable solution with an alternative power supply. A solar power system seemed convenient; we calculated that while it might be expensive to launch and install, it would pay off in the long run.

Indeed, it was expensive, but we are already reaping the rewards of this investment in the parts of our house now powered by solar energy. The solar power system has incredibly reduced our monthly electricity bills by around 40% and ensured that we have electricity available at all times in the house. The system is efficient, and even on cloudy days we have a power supply thanks to the use of storage batteries. Since installing the system, we have had low maintenance costs, and it has ultimately become our contribution to a healthy environment.

The current system is used for small-scale lighting and heating in limited areas throughout the complex. However, we plan to have the whole complex “solarized”, as well as solar-heated water heaters, stoves and refrigerators. In addition, solar water pumps for boreholes will ensure a constant and regular supply of drinking water.

Foods that require longer cooking time, such as mangayi (dry corn that is boiled and eaten as a snack) and mazondo (beef trotters) can be cooked on a solar dish. This will inevitably save you energy.

The jungles of Africa and elsewhere are turning into scrub, even desert, due to the cutting of trees for firewood, industry, charcoal, farmland, construction of buildings and the development of residential areas, to name but a few. While it takes about 10 minutes to cut down a tree, it takes about ten years to grow a tree to maturity. Cutting down trees disrupts or even destroys the ecosystem. Some plant and animal species have disappeared because their habitat has been destroyed. Climate change is a telling example of the negative impact of cutting down trees. Each of us should make a great effort to plant a tree every year, to restore declining forests.

The use of solar energy will also reduce the use of firewood or charcoal for cooking; and ultimately preserving trees and forests. Our community has already minimized the use of chemicals by replacing artificial fertilizers with compost manure and sludge from the biogas plant.

We have also reduced the amount of water we use for watering plants. Water from the laundry room and kitchen is used to water the fruit trees, and we have started planting vegetables like onions, cabbage, beans and sweet potatoes under the fruit trees. Thus, as the trees are watered, the crops are also watered, and vice versa, thus saving the water and energy needed to pump water. Another advantage is that the smell of onions or marigold flowers protects fruit trees from aphids; and weeds are reduced where the beans grow.

We have future plans to research other ways to save the environment and educate our educational institutions. We will offer awareness campaigns in our schools, with poetry and art, debates and tree planting days. During the first year, we want to get schools and communities to start raising chickens and raising fish for their independence. We are launching a campaign to save water, recycle, compost, plant bananas and continue planting vegetables under fruit trees; we will start using the wind turbines on our farm and eventually pump water with solar energy; and we will continue to manufacture biofertilizers and replenish our unused biogas resources.

Having a solar lighting system in our convent is a dream I have been waiting for for a long time. The frustration of power outages was becoming unbearable, but now they are a thing of the past. The student sisters are on a little cloud! They are happy that their studies are no longer interrupted by power cuts. Elderly sisters whose sight is fading can now say their prayers and walk safely with adequate light. This is an important step.

We are all very grateful to those who supported us and funded our dream. We are ready to roll out this project to our other homes as part of our long-term environmental campaign commitment, and will continue to explore ways to preserve the environment. The recycling, reuse and recharge policy will be our mandate! No matter how small our progress, we know it will make a difference.

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