Solar power brings short-term energy relief.

Author:Sutton, Jacky

Eritrea's economic recovery is hampered by a lack of energy. The country's three power stations produce a mere 20 megawatts.barely adequate for the capital, Asmara. Diesel is used in rural centres and by several of the country's 42 state-run factories, but it is expensive and eats into foreign exchange earmarked for spare parts and capital equipment.

Wood stoves and lamps are the most popular domestic alternative to electric power, but the indiscriminate cutting of trees, compounded with the effects of the 30-year war, have led to a drastic.decline in Eritrea's forest area, from 30% of the country to a mere O4%, or 53,220 hectares. Scarcity of wood has led some households to burn dung, thereby depriving the land of natural fertiliser.

Eritrea does have abundant reserves of energy in the shape of the wind, water and the sun. Preliminary feasibility studies indicate a hydropower potential of over 5.7m kilowatts, and work is under way to identify sites for the construction of riverine dams.

It is solar energy however; which & has the most promising potential in the short term. Eritrean forces used solar power for their underground and cultural centres. Independence has brought this subterranean technology into the open. So far, 37 school and three hospital have been.built.and equippped to run on solar power. According to Debesai Ghebrehiwot of the Ministry of Energy, there are plants to develop a further 20 solarpowered health centres and dozens of schools across the country. "Our children", he laughs, "can even learn during the night."

Thanks to the sun, keeping pace with Eritrea's commitment to:education and health will not drain the country's currency and tecnological reserves. Guy Watson of the UKs Dulas En explains that just, needed to equip a.small hospital such as the 32-bed facility at Tzadachristian, eight miles from Asmam. And the 12 village pumps already in place in various district cost a fraction of that.

Over 50 patients a day from 25 villages in the area come to the hospital for antenatal treatment, vaccinations and checkups. Photovoltaic panels on the roof trap the sun's power and convert it to 1.5 kilowatts of electricity, which is stored in batteries and is...

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