Energy Challenges in Tanzania Amidst Global Fuel Crisis and Climate Change

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The global fuel crisis observed recently has great impacts on the way the world fights against the impacts of climate change. Since climate change is not a new phenomenon, Tanzania is also in this cycle and worse enough being a developing countryy where it has already hit badly.

Since the outbreak of Ukraine-Russia conflict, the entire world has just experienced increasing price of commodities but fuel being the underlying cause of this price surge. Europe is lying at the centre of this energy crisis but it is also having major effects on its policies, markets, and economies implications in the rest of the world and in our country.

The current price of gasoline in Tanzania stands at 3,158.00 TZS per litre which is equivalent to 1.26 USD per litre as of December 2023. In Germany, the price is 1.70 EUR per litre which is about 1.83 USD per litre at the same date. In comparison, the average price of gasoline in the world is USD 1.21 per litre.

This indicates that the price of gasoline is similar across the world. It implies that the global economy is interconnected and Tanzania is part and parcel of it. No wonder that their impacts trickle-down effects are felt in the economy of the country and ultimately the climate change impacts manifestation all over.

In Tanzania, the progressive increase in prices has since then become a norm, and there is no immediate foreseen deacceleration. This trend of increasing energy prices impacts all sectors and exacerbates the increase utilization of biomass energy. While global efforts to do away with fossil energy are primarily gaining momentum, Tanzania is yet to reduce the use of biomass energy leaving alone the current energy sources option such as hydrogen.

Instead, the energy crisis has sparked biomass energy demand particularly at household levels in urban and rural settings for heating and cooking.

At local, Tanzanians consume about 1 million tons of charcoal which is equal to 109,500 ha of forest loss per annual and an overall deforestation rate of 460,000ha/year when including other drivers. There are ongoing efforts globally dealing with GHG emissions reduction of which biomass energy and fossil fuels are argued to be sources of these emissions.

It therefore implies that, if Tanzania is to pause strategically in fighting in this battle, among the focus areas would have been getting rid of producing, exporting, or consuming these sources of biomass energy.

Recent reports indicate that about 33,000 Tanzanians die per year because of air pollution caused by use of charcoal alone. This is just a small portion of evidence behind the deaths of most charcoal users, leaving alone the effects of pollution from other sources such as transport, industry, wastes etc.

At the same time, Tanzania is exporting handsome amounts of fossil energy (coal) to different countries from her reserves which are estimated to hold about 1.9 billion tons. What is not clear are the impacts of these energy resources. Their environmental and economic effects are not clearly visible and may raise even further questions.

Does this export account for the emissions equation? Does Tanzania utilize coal domestically? This is still an open question that requires further analysis. Meanwhile, the country is capitalizing on these trades as a source of foreign exchange among others. In due case therefore, there is increasing exportation which its GHG emissions may need to be accounted for as well.

It is yet not clear on how this emission is accounted for in the entire accounting of carbon trade and how the financial income obtained from this trade is used in clean energy development in Tanzania!

What is Happening Towards Finding a Permanent Solution?

There are ongoing initiatives which are indicating some of the positive trends in tackling environmental degradation. Recently, Mama Samia Suluhu Hassan, the president of Tanzania instructed institutions with above 300 employees to switch from biomass fuels within an annual timeframe (November 2023).

Although it´s likely that the move will be successfully implemented, it may result in a shift to fossils fuel such as using gas. The alternative will be a big shift although it will still emit some Green House Gases (GHG) as well but less than charcoal and indeed it is cleaner in comparison. This will relieve and ultimately reduce these number of tragedy deaths by choosing a less evil at least.

There is also potential for solar energy even though its initial cost is quite high. This can be used parallelly to form a hybrid system to supply energy. It is a better way to get the most use of the alternative to biomass energy especially for the institutions afore mentioned. Regardless of the available solar power potential in the country, the contribution of solar energy to the energy sector is less utilized.

Most off-grid solar PVC has been used in various peri-urban centres to power public and private houses at least. Examples are schools, hospitals, police posts, health centres and street lighting in urban centres.

Nonetheless, there are also mega investments in solar power underway which will be powering the national in the future such as in Dodoma, Same and Manyoni solar power projects. These are anticipated to be a great share contribution to the sustainable energy sector in Tanzania.

Additionally, there are other projects based on wind energy and geothermal which are adding up the contribution of sustainable energy in powering the nation. Together, as they are developed in the country through tapping of free natural geothermal resources, they provide the alternatives towards clean energy. Tanzania Geothermal Development Company (TGDC) plans geothermal development at sites in Ngozi, Mbaka in Mbeya and Songwe, and Natron in the Arusha region.

Briefly, these are some of the investments in sustainable energy projected to compensate for the increasing demand of energy. These are clean and sustainable sources; however, the increasing demand requires even more than can be accessed now. The country’s efforts are falling short of resources to meet these demands.

Moreover, chaos in finding solutions, the intensification of fossil fuel use, exploration and exportation is gaining momentum. As far as Tanzania’s ambition to industrialize remains a priority, the challenge is balancing the two antagonistic paths. Sustainable industrialization is quite a tricky game since it is a capital-intensive investment exceeding the capacity of the economy to handle.

Developed countries that have already invested in and developed their industries are not also going to switch overnight. They will perhaps replace new technology progressively with old technology piece by piece until overhauling the entire system.

The carbon credits offsetting option which is also part of developed industrialized economies’ approach towards climate change mitigation (decarbonization), is another ongoing means which is giving incentives to developing countries. The shortfall is that the current market prices and the foregone benefits are not commensurate with the situations in real life. However, this gives a grace period to developed countries to change technology while offsetting emission credits.

While Tanzania is endowed with all potential resources to power the industrialization mission, there are some issues contradicting the entire process. A good example is fossil fuels which have been used to power industrialization during the industrial revolution in developed economies but now is listed as a source of emissions of carbon What should be done alternatively to avoid these emissions?

Do we have enough capital to invest in clean energy to power sustainable and clean industries? These are some questions which need a wide scope of approach and some efforts in Tanzania are worth mentioning. The Mwalimu Nyerere Hydro Electric Energy and Standard Railway Gauge (SGR) are the best projects to showcase shifting of the economy to a sustainable stand.

Together with the solar energy projects, there are positive foreseen results if the pace of investment in this direction is consistently enhanced.

The completion of these two mega projects which are interdependent will mark the new beginning of reliable and improved power supply and rail transport.

The SGR which is electrically powered requires a consistent supply of electricity from Julius Nyerere Hydropower Project (JNHPP) station sources from Songosongo will at the same time enhance electricity supplies for other uses in the country. The power rationing that happened recently will likely become history.

What are the Predicaments in The Process of Transformation to Sustainable Development?

The two major projects which are landmarks of our sustainable future are facing some stabling blocks. In the very recent, the president of Tanzania dissolved the board of Tanzania Electric Supply Company (TANESCO). Although it was not clearly pronounced the causes behind, the performance showed a shortfall vividly.

The prolonged use and unrepaired infrastructure including machines used by TANESCO was only the reason which has been claimed to cause power outrage before dissolving the board.

The country was in the scaring and deadly rationing of supply a few weeks ago and still there is no stable supply. This is enough indication of failure in performing effectively and efficiently. This has also been the case even for the past ministers in that portfolio and the vicious circle has been recurrent.

This pauses a very great doubt as to weather the anticipated future will be attained soonest. Although the dam (JNHPP) was said to have above 90% completion, we have witnessed decreasing water levels in other dams. These have affected dearly the production and supply of electricity in the country. Whether this new dam will not result the same, is a puzzle yet to be solved.

Read The Julius Nyerere Hydropower Project is Now 90% Complete While Conserving the Environment – What Should We Expect Next?

At the same time, the SGR project which has been said to start its operation in 2021 is still in suspense as to when exactly it will become operational. There have been over seven times reported starting dates but none of them has become reality. Always there is a postponement and increased costs beyond what was initially promised.

We are yet to be sure if January 2024 will witness the starting of the SGR train as promised by the Minister. It seems that the projects are politicised and making the realisation unsolved puzzle.

The pragmatic approach should be emphasized to ensure the intended goals are reached, otherwise if we continue to politicise the projects, it will take forever to achieve the results. This approach in any project should be applied to attaining positive results and solving the problem rather than using an ideological approach which is basically adhering to certain principles and beliefs.

The ideological approach has been used quite sometimes and continuing to apply brings no improvement and the vicious circle will not be broken. Every one or two years we experience power outrage because of using the ideological approach.

Dr. Emanueli Ndossi, a seasoned EIA and EA Expert, directs J & Enviroconsult (T) Ltd, with over a decade of experience. His expertise covers Project Management, Monitoring, and Evaluation (M&E) for comprehensive environmental assessments. Dr. Ndossi, with impactful roles in WCST, TFCG, and the University of Queensland, has shaped conservation efforts work spans diverse sectors, contributing to sustainable practices in tourism and conservation. Dr. Ndossi holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Göttingen and an M.Sc. in Environmental Management from the University of Queensland. His active engagement in organizations like ISIE, Carbon Lab, Soil Science Society of Germany, WCST, and FCC showcases his significant contributions to the environmental field.

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