Sustainable energy:
a matter of
Perseverence

On board the longest flight I have ever taken in my life from Zimbabwe to Australia 18 months ago, I was reflecting on my life and how I got to this point.

I am Perseverence – Persy for short – and I am 26 years old. I was born and brought up in Harare in Zimbabwe.

Numbers and calculations have always been exciting for me, and maths was my favourite topic in school, so engineering seemed the obvious choice for me. To get the best education my parents could afford, I had to go to Cape Town, South Africa to study my bachelor in engineering.

I am passionate about the environment, and the provision of clean, reliable and sustainable energy for all.

One day I came across an ad for the Master of Sustainable Energy (MSE) online, while looking for opportunities to further my education.

So, I applied to The University of Queensland because of its world-class reputation and there was also the added advantage of my brother already studying in Brisbane. And I got accepted.

After several medical tests, police checks and visa processing, I finally made it to Brisbane.

I basically came to UQ thinking I would learn more about how to stop the use of fossil fuels immediately and how the world would easily switch to renewables such as solar panels and wind energy.

And – boy – was I wrong. However, I learned that it cannot be achieved overnight. And I learned three important lessons (and a lot more, of course!).

First, I learned that fossil fuels have played an important role world-wide and will continue for some years, powering economies, promoting economic development, particularly in emerging economies.

In my home country of Zimbabwe (with 15 million inhabitants), we have a large hydro power station, one large coal-fired station and three smaller ones; with plans to expand each station. We do not produce enough power for our needs and so we import power from South Africa. We do need more electricity sources to power our mines and industries as well as our homes. But I strongly believe that new renewable energy projects can play a unique role in the energy mix.

One of the family's solar lamps

One of the family's solar lamps

Second, I learned that climate change and mitigation efforts require that people work across borders and disciplines – collaboration among professionals from different fields, organisations and countries is vital.

This was indeed mirrored in the MSE with my class consisting of a banker, a lawyer, economists, social scientists and engineers, and we were encouraged to work together.

It was funny to watch my non-engineering colleagues sweating over thermodynamic laws and calculations. Likewise, I think they got a kick out of watching me trying to discuss policy formulation or trying to pitch a business idea, which I knew very little about before I started my masters.

Third, I learned that while transitioning to renewables from fossil fuels is what most countries aspire to do, we need more research and development for this transition to happen smoothly. Energy storage and adaptation of current electricity infrastructure are required to accommodate more renewable electricity production.

A typical rural kitchen

A typical rural kitchen

The electricity blackout in South Australia on 28 September 2016 was an interesting experience for me – seeing that a blackout would make the news and have a whole commission of enquiry set up because of the incident!

I can only imagine what having a reliable electricity system in my country would be like.

One of my favourite courses during my studies here was the Energy and Development course because it really hit home for me. One of the issues we grappled with was how an estimated 1.2 billion people in the world have no access to electricity – more than 95% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia.

Zimbabwe is shown in the picture below.

Source: worldenergyoutlook.org\/resources\/energydevelopment\/energyaccessdatabase\/

Source: worldenergyoutlook.org/resources/energydevelopment/energyaccessdatabase/

In Zimbabwe, only 40% of the population have access to electricity and though my household and my parents in Harare have access to electricity, we have power cuts at random times at least three or four times a week. It is something we have to live with.

Cooking in rural Zimbabwe

Cooking in rural Zimbabwe

I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to study the Master of Sustainable Energy. And I really enjoyed studying with people from different parts of the world. I had class mates from Switzerland, Bosnia, Iran, Kenya, Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, Tahiti and of course Australia.

At the time of writing, I am looking for opportunities to work in Australia for a few years. My dream is to build up the skillsets and networks to help improve access to electricity in emerging economies and contribute to efforts to decarbonise energy systems across the globe.

By Perseverence (Persy) Moyana

Contact email: drpersy@gmail.com