Botswana's Renewable Energy
Nearly half of Botswana’s population remains poor despite its economic strides. About 46% of children under the age of 15 are vulnerable to poverty. In 2013, UNDP measured Botswana’s rural areas as having the highest poverty rates with nearly 45% of people living below the poverty line. Botswana has abundant solar and biogas resources that it can harness to increase access to affordable, sustainable energy alternatives in rural populations while providing opportunities to grow local economies and jobs through investments in solar plants and biogas digesters. Leveraging natural sources such as these could alleviate Botswana’s reliance on more expensive imported petroleum sources and centralized electric grids. Communities can bridge the gap between their demand and supply with affordable, viable options that are sustainable. Current investment levels do not fully exploit the potential of Botswana’s renewable energy options.

About Botswana

With its stunning landscapes and majestic wildlife, Botswana has long been a magnet for travelers and adventurers the world over. Nestled and landbound between Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, deep in the Kalahari desert, some have touted Botswana as an economic and political success story in the region. The country has enjoyed sustained economic growth and political stability primarily due to its diamond and tourism industry.

Solar Power

Botswana has lots of sunshine. Per the World Bank, Botswana “has abundant solar energy resources receiving over 3,200 hours of sunshine per year with an average insolation on a horizontal surface of 21MJ/m2, one of the highest rates of insulation in the world.” With its annual sunshine among the highest globally, there is much potential for Botswana to advance its solar energy capabilities. The far-flung desert spaces of rural areas lend themselves well to establishing vast solar farms.

The Botswana government has indicated an interest in growing its renewable energy sector, hosting its first large workshop on the topic in 2014.

While adoption of solar technologies holds great promise for Botswana, legacy financial, policy and institutional frameworks are barriers. Botswana’s government has also highlighted a lack of knowledge on the evolving technologies and practices in the renewables area as a challenge to the advancement of its goals.


Biogas, which producers generate from waste, has much potential as a renewable energy source. This type of energy source is useful in the generation of heat and power, replacing conventionally used fossil fuel sources, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions while recycling agro-waste such as cow-dung and chicken litter. The high quantities of manure from the large cattle population enable the necessary capacity to establish independent biogas-based power plants in addition to solar farms. Countries can explore methane capture technologies for local energy options while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Success Stories

The Botswana government is working strategically to diversify its energy sources and build resiliency in its energy sector by investing in new solar power plants. As of 2020, plans for building four new solar plants over the next six years for a cumulative 610MW capacity are underway.

The Biogas Project of Botswana supports the production and use of biogas for agro-waste producing farms and organizations. The project is a part of Botswana’s 11th National Development Plan (NDP11), seeking to promote equitable, affordable energy while reducing the country’s carbon footprint by leveraging renewable energy sources public-private partnerships. The Biogas Project intends to build 200 digesters with a focus on addressing the needs of current underrepresented and vulnerable parts of the community, such as women and children. One of its beneficiaries speaks of how it has reduced her fuel costs by relying on locally generated manure as well as eased her daily burdens of collecting firewood for her chores of cooking and other household needs.

Looking Ahead

Investment in renewable energy such as solar power and biogas technologies in rural Botswana empowers rural communities by reducing their reliance on imported fuels such as petroleum and large-scale centralized electric grids. Building renewable energy plants closer to rural communities bolsters rural economies, promotes autonomy and improves adaptability to changing energy circumstances and costs.

The U.N. has laid out key global objectives to achieve sustainable energy for all by 2030 that includes doubling the share of renewable energy globally. Given the plummeting costs of renewable sources in recent years, the government of Botswana is moving to articulate a renewal energy strategy as part of its overall energy objectives. Achieving self-sufficiency and establishing sustainable energy sources is of great importance to Botswana.

While Botswana has far to go in advancing these objectives, it shows promise in its abundant solar and other local energy resources to alleviate living conditions for the rural poor. Botswana should continue its path to sustainable, self-sufficient energy focusing on enabling private-public partnerships and investments in solar power programs. The country will benefit from the expertise, learnings and perspectives of collaborators worldwide. It is well-positioned to meet its challenges in alleviating rural poverty with thoughtful investments in Botswana’s renewable energy sector, given its historically stable governance, well-regarded global economic standing and long hours of sunlight.

– Mala Rajamani
Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Energy
A rise in population and an increase in new industries has created a demand for energy that Pakistan has been unable to handle. At its peak, the deficit in electricity was over 40% of the national demand. Despite having several energy sources including natural gas, hydroelectricity and coal, more than 140 million Pakistanis do not have access to electricity. Scientists are studying several solutions including biogas, a renewable and sustainable energy source.

The demand for the most utilized sources of energy — oil and gas — outweigh the supply. According to the Oil and Gas Development Company, Pakistan’s oil supply will be depleted by 2025 and natural gas will be depleted by 2030. Climate change and droughts have endangered the supply of hydroelectricity as well.

According to Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister, Pakistan’s energy crisis is responsible for a massive loss in both the industrial and agricultural sectors. To meet growing demands, it is necessary to explore other possible power sources.

Biogas, a renewable and sustainable energy source, could be the answer to the energy and agriculture crisis. Being an agricultural country, Pakistan has a substantial number of cattle that produce a huge amount of waste. This waste could be used to generate electricity while also eliminating the waste disposal problem. Animal manure, industrial waste, agricultural residue and kitchen waste can all be converted to biogas and used to produce electricity.

Pakistan’s bio-gas technology company, PAK-Energy, has installed seven biogas tanks in Lahore and plans to install over 25,000 more in the next 3 years. Access to clean-burning fuel can reduce health problems, environmental degradation and poverty. Moreover, farmers can use bio-fertilizer as organic fertilizer.

Other projects include a plan for renewable energy sources — wind, solar and biogas — to provide at least five percent of the total commercial energy supply by 2030. Ultimately, officials are hopeful that at least 2.5% of energy will come from renewable and sustainable sources.

Mary Barringer

Photo: Flickr

HomeBioGasAround three billion people in rural areas still utilize simple stoves that require burning wood, crop refuse or coal. These resources create dangerous air pollution, causing over 3.8 million premature deaths annually. The HomeBioGas startup aims to change this.

HomeBioGas, an organic renewable energy system created by an Israeli startup, aims to reduce the death toll in rural areas while at the same time helping farmers and families reduce their carbon footprint.

The machine safely converts food waste and animal manure into cooking gas and liquid fertilizer. The machine serves as a sustainable tool for urban and rural families living off the grid.

According to the company’s website, the 88-pound machine starts by adding a bacteria to a combination of waste and water, which triggers a fermentation process. The reaction then produces a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, which can be used as energy.

The system can break down up to six liters of food waste, including meat and dairy. It can also dissolve 15 liters of animal manure, yielding about three hours worth of cooking gas and about 10 liters of liquid fertilizer. Families then can use the resulting gas to cook around three meals a day.

One of the few problems with HomeBioGas, however, is its dependency on warm temperatures. Under 64°F (17°C), the system will decrease its productivity, and it will cease to function at 32°F (0°C).

After a year, though, users eliminate one ton of organic waste, as well as decreasing toxic emissions going into the atmosphere.

Oshik Efrati, CEO of HomeBioGas, told Reuters that the system “will be available to everyone [who] needs it in the developing world.”

The company has already dispensed systems to underserved locations in order to cut back reliance on other types of fuel.

In the summer of 2014, Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection bought and installed multiple units at Umm Batin, a Bedouin village without access to clean energy and garbage removal.

The Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Energy and Mining, aiming to reduce the impoverished population’s overdependence on wood, recently signed a contract with HomeBioGas to purchase 50 biodigesters.

The pilot program’s prior success in the two countries, led their governments have decided to purchase even more biodigesters to combat poverty in these locations.

John Gilmore

Sources: Huffington Post, Israel 21c, IndieGoGo
Photo: EcoWatch

In Pakistan, 16 million families don’t have access to clean-burning fuels for cooking and heating. The result of this is increased health problems, especially for women and children. A solution has been developed by PAK-Energy to help reduce this issue. Ranked in the list of “10 Incredible Tech Innovations from 2014 that will Benefit Humanity” on the ONE website, PAK-Energy knows where the need lies and seems to be working towards a better alternative for people living in Pakistan.

Ali Raza of PAK-Energy has created a small, sustainable domestic biogas unit that produces biogas good enough to take care of a family’s cooking and heating needs. This biogas unit will also help the family save money by reducing the cost of fuel. The other benefits of it include reducing waste production and producing nontoxic organic residues that can be sold later on for fertilizer.

PAK-Energy has a vision that is committed to becoming part of a green revolution for Pakistan. It does this by providing energy solutions that are more cost efficient and better for the community like the one mentioned above.

So what is biogas exactly? Organic waste like animal manure, kitchen waste, agricultural residue and even industrial waste can be turned into biogas. This biogas can be used for cooking, heating, lighting and electricity generation for families. There are also economic benefits to biogas such as employment generation, industrial growth, additional source of income with fertilizer, rural development, low cost product and create a sustainable economy.

PAK-Energy has received a lot of recognition for its progress in helping the poor for example in 2011, it received an invitation from the Prime Minister of Turkey to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Also within that same year, it one the first prize in the Young Entrepreneurs Business Challenge in Lahore, Pakistan.

So far, PAK-Energy has made a big impact by creating seven pilot projects in Lahore, Pakistan. This helps families save money and it helps the environment as well. As a plan moving forward, PAK-Energy has a goal of 25,000 units to be installed within the next five years.

– Brooke Smith

Sources: ONE, PAK Energy Solution
Photo: Flickr

More than seven billion people live in this world. Yet, according to the World Health Organization, more than 3 billion risk experiencing serious respiratory infections and early death simply by cooking food and heating their homes using traditional wood stoves and solid fuels instead of clean biogas cookstoves.

The National Clean Cookstoves and Fuels Conference at Nairobi, Kenya in February was sponsored by the Global Alliance For Clean Cookstoves (GACC). The conference drew attention to a simple fact: “Cooking is essential and should not kill,” noted Radha Muthiah, the executive director of GACC.

In Kenya alone, illnesses linked to cookstove smoke claim 15, 700 lives a year.  Yet 84 percent of the country continues to uses solid fuels for cooking.

Naturally, the most affected group are mothers – responsible for the bulk of the cooking – and children. Muthiah shared this tragic figure: 8,300 Kenyan children die annually due to respiratory infections attributed to this indoor air pollution.

The solution, though clear, poses a high cost.

Isaac Kalua, chairperson of the Kenya-based Green Africa Foundation, asserted, “We are losing people because of indoor [air] pollution and we therefore need urgent transition from traditional methods of cooking to modern technologies.” He continued by observing that the “affordability of the new technologies is a main challenge to providing clean fuels for all.” Such technologies include reliable, safe biogas cooking stoves, used in conjunction with biogas digesters.

Despite the cost, a number of donors in place who recognize the needless loss of life and are committed to helping Sub-Saharan Africa address this issue. During the February GACC conference, several organizations pledged their continuing financial support.  Benefactors include the UN Foundation, which has invested $3 million this year. GACC aims to provide reliable cookstoves and clean fuels globally.

The U.S. government awarded $1 million to three Kenyan organizations. This recent donation continues a lengthy history of support: since 2010, the US has contributed $125 million to GACC.

Though financial support is critical, outreach to those at risk equally addresses the harms of indoor pollution. These education efforts extend to women, as well as farmers. As the popularity of diary farmer grows in Sub-Saharan Africa, sources for biogas are expanding, According to SciDiv.Net, biogas “is a system that converts organic waste from livestock manure into energy for cooking” and heating. This system burns cleanly, because the biogas fuel does not release toxic emissions.

Consequently, biogas offers the opportunity to circumvent the health risks associated with traditional wood burning stoves.

Tradition, however, is formidable opponent. Mary Njoki, a rural Kenyan mother of five, shared this observation: “Biogas is good because it cooks fast but I still use wood fuel when it is the cold season to warm the house and cook food, since during this period, the heat produced by biogas is not sufficient.” Organizations world wide are committed to changing not only Mary Njoki’s mind – but the habits of millions of families heating their homes and cooking food for their children.

As Radha Muthiah observes, “using clean, efficient, and safe cookstoves” reduces fuel consumption, exposure to toxins and deforestation. And, most importantly, save millions of lives.

Ellery Spahr 

Sources: SciDevNet, Sci Dev Net, Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
Photo: Burn Design Lab

The loo, can, John, privy, water closet or bathroom – no matter what it is called, the toilet is a universally valued sanitation need.  That said, this year marked the first official celebration of World Toilet Day. While the day has been informally recognized by sanitation advocacy groups for 13 years, the United Nations officially declared November 19 World Toilet Day this year.

“To have it inscribed as a U.N. official day,” says World Toilet Organization founder Jack Sim, “means we now have the … legitimacy to engage at country and local levels to generate awareness down to where it matters most. We’ve finally broken the taboo on sanitation.”

Lack of proper sanitation poses a threat to many developing nations around the world. In fact, more than 2.5 billion people lack proper sanitation, states Devex, and are at an increased risk for waterborne illnesses. Five years ago in Harare, Zimbabwe, more than 400,000 were killed and 100,000 sickened by cholera, states the Huffington Post.

The densely populated city still faces health and sanitation risks today.  A new report titled “Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe’s Capital” captures the dangerous living conditions of many of the nation’s citizens.  The lack of proper filtration, sanitation and clean water violate fundamental human rights, the report claims.

Zimbabwe has not always lacked proper sanitation systems, however.  Until the 1980s the country had a functioning sewage system, but governmental neglect and corruption has allowed the system to deteriorate and cause public hazards.

“The government’s inability to maintain the water system and its practice of disconnecting those unable to pay,” Human Rights Watch Southern Africa director Tiseke Kasambala says,” forces people to drink water from contaminated taps or from unprotected wells.” Sewage lines the streets of many communities where inhabitants also lack clean water for bathing and drinking.

The situation is not much better in Haiti and according to Devex, only one-third of the Caribbean nation has access to toilets. More than 680,00 people have contracted cholera, with nearly 8,400 dying from the disease in the last three years. Researchers, however, are using defecation as an opportunity to develop sustainable energy practices.

Professors from the University of Maryland and Biobolsa of Mexico have designed a technology that utilizes anaerobic digesters to break down organic matter and transform it into methane.  The methane biogas can then be used to generate electricity and heat homes.

The researchers and technicians have high hopes for the project. “We hope this project can be used to bring together these WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] communities through the sharing of our rigorous evaluation data, survey results and workshop materials,” University of Maryland’s Stephanie Lansing said, “so the sanitation model implemented here in Haiti can be replicated throughout the development community.”

Though improper sanitation and hygiene practices threaten many developing nations, work is underway to flush these public health hazards down the drain and transform them into sustainable development opportunities.

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: Devex: Learning to love the loo, The Huffington Post, Devex: Haiti
Photo: New Times