Sifelani Tsiko Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
Zimbabwe is setting its sights on diversifying the country’s energy matrix to ease dependence on its main ZESA electricity grid and power imports from neighbouring countries through the uptake of renewable energy.
Despite, the economic problems facing the country and the huge cost of investing in renewables, the country is making steady progress in terms of the uptake of solar energy by households, large corporates and mining giants.
Zimbabwe’s main grid is operating below capacity, leaving most parts of the country vulnerable to blackouts.
At present, the country has an installed electricity generation capacity of 2 260MW, but is only able to generate about 900MW with the shortfall imported from South Africa and Mozambique.
Back to back droughts have hit the generation of power at Kariba power station badly, forcing the station to reduce its output drastically.
Constant mechanical breakdowns at Hwange Power Station have compounded the problems for the country.
Equipment at Hwange is old and needs upgrading.
The power generation problems at Kariba and Hwange as well as foreign currency shortages for power imports have had a ‘positive’ impact — with frustrated consumers moving swiftly to adopt renewable energy as a sustainable solution to the country’s energy crisis.
“There is a silver lining on the problems we have been facing as a country in the energy sector,” says Eng Gloria Magombo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development.
“There is a massive interest in solar energy across the country. We are witnessing a massive uptake of green energy from household level, small businesses, large corporates, giant mining companies and the entrance of independent power producers.”
IPPs and other large companies, she says, are now contributing about six percent of the power they generate to the national grid.
“Currently IPPs with outputs of between 100kw and 1,1MW are producing about 36MW — both solar and hydro,” says Eng Magombo.
“The figures are growing and with more companies and mines taking up renewables, we expect the output to rise to more than 40MW by end of year. We welcome private sector participation and this helps us to spread the burden of energy provision.”
Large corporations and mines are becoming important drivers of renewable energy production in Zimbabwe with the Government rolling out generous incentives and a conducive environment for investment.
Last year, Schweppes Africa Holdings commissioned its 1-megawatt rooftop photovoltaic solar plant which was installed by Distributed Power Africa (DPA) at a cost of US$2 million as part of its efforts to ease the energy supply gap facing the country.
DPA, a subsidiary of the Econet Wireless Group, also built and commissioned several rooftop projects around the country for several companies and mines.
The telecoms firm has large rooftop and carport projects like the Econet Willowvale project, which is 0,465MW, Granite Side rooftop system (0,1MW), the Msasa rooftop and carport system (0,1MW) among others.
Other leading corporates such as Kefalos and Surrey have switched over to solar through DPA’s Power Lease Financing Agreements (PLAs).
Kefalos now has a 600kW solar installation, while Surrey has also installed a 100kW solar PV plant. Padenga crocodile firm and numerous have also joined the growing list of large companies and farms which are generating energy for self-consumption.
Last month, Total Zimbabwe a US$4 million project to fit half of its stations in the country with solar panels to enable the oil company to reduce its electricity bill and become more independent of the power grid.
The French oil company is rolling out solar power systems across its network of 101 petrol station in Zimbabwe, something that may help the firm to cut energy dependence from the national power grid and other sources by 30 percent.
Old Mutual Zimbabwe in a partnership with Easy Power Limited says it will install a mounted solar system with a capacity of 650KW at its Mutual Gardens property by August this year as it adopts strategies to cut its electricity bill and promote renewable energy consumption.
The Renewable Energy Association of Zimbabwe (REAZ) has facilitated the uptake of renewable energy technologies in many households in the country.
It has led to widespread adoption of home solar systems and for many companies which are not heavy consumers of energy.
Zimbabwe’s mining industry too, is also making frantic efforts to establish solar plants for their power requirements that can also contribute the excess to the national grid.
Several mining companies have floated tenders for the installation solar plants.
Caledonia Mining has invited bidders to build a 20MW solar farm that will feed its Blanket Mine as it moves to go green.
At present, Blanket Mine has a 18,4MW diesel back up plant and a move to solar will save costs for the mining entity.
Zimplats, the country’s largest platinum producer is also said to be moving to invest in a solar energy plant as a solution to the power crisis facing the mining sector.
RioZim energy plans to install a 180MW of solar power at its gold mining operations. At least four solar parks of 45MW are expected to be installed each at Renco Mine in Nyajena, Dalny Mine in Chakari, Cam and Motor Mine in Kadoma and at Murowa Diamonds mine near Zvishavane.
Karo Resources also has plans to develop 300MW solar plant to feed power to the its platinum mine in Mhondoro-Ngezi this year.
China’s Tsingshan Global Holdings, a leading global producer of stainless steel, which signed an MoU for the construction of a US$1 billion steel plant at Mvuma plans to set up a 600MW power plant which will generate 300MW initially.
Prospect Resources also signed an MoU with African Continental Minerals (ACM) for the supply of 20MW of power to the Arcadia lithium project.
“There are a lot of individuals, companies and mining giants that are investing in solar energy and this is good for the country,” says Eng Magombo.
“We want our companies to grow green. We welcome such investments and they fit very well into our plans to attain our Sustainable Development Goals on energy which aim to increase access and participation in the energy sector.”
The Energy and Power Development ministry estimates that more than 600MW of power will be generated from projects undertaken by the mining sector by 2023.
Despite lack of funding and foreign currency shortages, Independent Power Producer (IPP) are also aiming to secure more capital and roll out their projects, according to the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA).
By December 2019, the energy regulator had issued a total of 71 licences but only 15 of the proposed projects were now producing and contributing a small amount of output to the grid.
ZERA says 11 of the 15 IPPs are contributing about 36,28 MW into the national grid while the other four are producing for personal use.
IPPs play a critical role in attracting private capital into power generation to help augment power generated from the main State power utility — Zesa.
They are helping to ease the country’s crippling power shortages, which has seen most consumers for more than 8 hours without electricity.
A crippling load shedding schedule has severely affected both the productive and manufacturing sectors of the economy.
ZERA has processed 39 solar power projects that have capacity to generate up 1,151.87MW, as the country moves to transform its renewable energy generation capacity.
The projects require an investment of over $2,3 billion.
“The authority has so far received and processed a total of 39 solar energy projects, with six of them now functional, two (are) under construction and 31 (are) still to be developed,” Zera’s acting chief executive officer, Eddington Mazambani was quoted saying.
Centragrid Solar Farm Nyabira, when completed will push about 25 megawatts while Harava Solar project 20MW, Cross – Mabale 5MW, Riverside Solar Power Station 2,5M and Centragrid Nyabira Solar PV is feeding 2,5MW among other renewable energy projects in the country.
Investments in mini–hydro stations countrywide have also increased power generation in Zimbabwe. For example, the Kupinga Gydro Energy plant in Chipinge contributes about 1,6MW of energy into the national grid.
If the country also harnesses other energy sources such as hydro, thermal, coal, coal-bed methane and others it will be possible to stabilise the national grid by 2030, energy experts say.
Zimbabwe has approved its National Biofuels Policy and National Renewable Energy Policy as it aims to cut carbon emissions by 33 percent by 2030 and meet its projected electricity demand of 11 500MW by 2030.
The country’s long term renewables target represents a big challenge that will dramatically alter the country’s energy landscape.
It can be viewed through the prism of the global energy transition which seeks to move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of energy.
The journey won’t be easy and is fraught with lack of capital and difficult macro-economic environment in which the country is going through.
Hopes are that the rising importance of environmental, social and governance criteria could provide the necessary push for renewable energy transformation in Zimbabwe.