More than half of the health clinics in Namibia have limited access to electricity. UNDP’s Solar for Health initiative, supported under the Country Engagement Facility, is providing solar energy to clinics. Clinics can provide 24/7 health services to the population, reduced electricity bills, and safely store medicines and vaccines. The initiative provides increased access to quality health services for the general population including vulnerable populations especially in rural settings of Namibia through the use of solar energy.
Namibia’s electricity sector faces major challenges. Security of supplies, both nationally and regionally, is not guaranteed, and regional electricity supply capacities have become substantially constrained. Namibia has only 550MW installed capacity of power generation, mainly from Hydro and thermal sources. Only 45% of the population have access to power. Namibian urban households’ electrification is estimated at 70%, whereas for rural households is 19%. These conditions pose challenges that negatively affect the operability of the health system. Modern health services require stable and reliable energy supply. This is even more important for the supply chain of health commodities, where correct temperature conditions are essential for the quality and durability of medicines, diagnostics, equipment and reagents. Over the last several decades, health supply projects have struggled with the issue of securing sustainable energy supply. Many of storage facilities in remote areas are not linked to the national grid and their energy supply can be erratic. Wood, or other biomass such as crop waste, is the dominant fuel for cooking, lighting and heating. This comes at a huge cost to the environment as families continue to cut down trees (resulting in the deforestation of forests) for much-needed fuel.
The government of Namibia has a clear policy to encourage the use of renewable energy sources; however, the use of solar energy in Namibia remains marginal. For too long, energy poverty has prevented access to healthcare for many vulnerable people around Namibia. Most health facilities in Namibia lack reliable access to energy, and significant number of facilities do not have access to electricity at all. Even health facilities with access to electricity face frequent and significant power shortages, interrupting service provisions and hindering service delivery. Traditionally, diesel generators have powered off-grid facilities and served as back-up power sources in grid-connected healthcare facilities. Yet these come with both high fuel cost and unreliable fuel delivery. The reality is that intermittent or unreliable power sources put people’s lives at risk. The most impacted by these are the vulnerable rural poor.
Health clinics, maternity wards, surgery blocks, medical warehouses, and laboratories all rely on electricity to refrigerate medicines, power the lights and operate life-saving medical devices. Without reliable energy sources, medicines and vaccines are stored in poor condition (cold chain), utility bills are high, and hospitals are in debt. Renewable energy solutions such as Solar PV Systems serve as a promising tool in ensuring that rural health facilities have reliable and cost-effective electricity.
As Namibia is geographically located in a sunshine rich region and has some of the highest solar radiation potential in the world, the country is an ideal place to deploy a cost-effective solution for the energy supply in rural areas. The use of solar power can assist the Namibian health system to increase its resilience to the challenges presented by climate change, including extreme weather events that can affect conventional sources of electricity. The deployment of PV systems for health services has been considered by development organizations and governmental agencies worldwide. This includes the ‘Solar for Health’ initiative by the UNDP, which has supported Namibia in providing Solar PV systems to rural health facilities.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Namibia collaborated with Global Fund and Namibia’s Ministry of Health and Social Services on a pilot project under the UNDP global initiative Solar for Health (S4H). S4H is supporting the installation of solar power systems in health centres and clinics in rural areas to reach underserved communities. The goal is to provide healthcare for all, wherever they may be, and to ensure no one is left behind. For example, maternal mortality is higher for women living in rural areas and among poorer communities. The installation of solar panels is helping to ensure that health care workers are better equipped to provide improved health services to reduce complications during and following pregnancy and childbirth. Further, this also addresses the critical negative impacts on human and natural systems such as health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth.
The pilot project involved the installation of solar energy photo-voltaic (PV) systems in select clinics across Namibia. These systems provide constant and cost-effective access to electricity, assisting vulnerable communities in mitigating climate change and poverty conditions. The pilot is ongoing in terms of upkeep and maintenance which is done through a local solar energy company SolTec and overseen by the installation company GSOL.
The expected results of the initiative include 100% return on investment (ROI) within 2-5 years. The S4H initiative will allow health facilities to save money, which can be reinvested to support other priority health programmes. A scale-up of S4H will transform the country’s health system and contribute to the universal health coverage. It will test and demonstrate a sustainable business model for health sector energy management, enabling the Government and potential private sector partners to increase their investments in reliable energy and promote climate resilient systems for health. The long-term financial benefit would be a reduction in health sector operational costs, with the expected long-term outcome of higher quality supply of medicines in rural health facilities and a reduction in CO2 emissions. This action, although relatively small, if replicated at a global scale will make a larger contribution to avoid the “dangerous 1.5oC warmer earth”. As noted by the IPCC 2018, vulnerable populations are at disproportionately higher risks and impacts on these groups will increase rapidly after the 1.5oC limit is reached. This solution will be especially relevant in SIDS and LDCs, noted to be more vulnerable and higher risks.
This proposal seeks to unlock the up-front capital needed for investments in solar energy for the health sector, and to document the feasibility of different payment for outcome models to ensure sustainability and support scale-up. By exploring the cost effectiveness and development impact of different options, this proposal will serve as a catalyst for new partnerships, including South-South Cooperation initiatives and public-private partnerships where appropriate. The Solar for Health pilot project has already leveraged South-South Cooperation in regard to procurement to initiate the pilot, as procurement was secured in partnership with Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The major lesson learnt was that joint procurement significantly reduces individual country cost.
The feasibility study will assess financing solutions among the 4 countries in the region to gather sufficient information to justify acceptance, modification or rejection of the proposed Solar for Health financing model for further financing and implementation.
Provider Country: UNDP and Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe
Beneficiary Country: Namibia
Supported by: UNDP Country Investment Facility, Global Fund
Implementing Agency: Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS)
Project Status: On-going
Project Period: 2018-2019
Geraldine Van Wyk
Gender and Governance Focal Point