Moves to finalise the construction of the 20MW Harava Solar Project (HSP), a few kilometres south-east of the capital, have shown a good example of how it is possible for Zimbabwe to tap into green energy.
Despite the difficult operating environment, Zimbabwe is pushing by all means necessary to complete solar energy power plants, as it seeks to boost its use of renewable energy over the coming years.
The Harava solar project, on a 28-hectare piece of land with 66 000 monocrystaline – 400 watts solar panels, is now 70 percent complete, brightening hopes for the station to start feeding into the national grid at Dema sub-station in two months.
This should boost the country’s main Zesa national energy grid, which is under severe demand pressure, as 20MW can light up several households.
The construction of Harava solar project is taking place with the active participation of the Seke rural community.
Workers drawn from Seke rural district make up 90 percent of the workforce, something which has brought cheer to the locals in search of jobs.
In addition to this, the local community owns 7.3 percent of the project under a Community Share Ownership Trust Scheme.
Apart from getting energy to light their homes, the Seke community will benefit through sourcing power for a 60-hectare irrigation scheme set aside for horticulture.
When complete, the plant will provide clean, reliable power to over 45 000 households and a stable source of energy to foster the development of the local economy.
Zimbabwe is now focused on renewable energy development to fix the energy crisis facing the country which has seen consumers sometimes enduring power blackouts.
The crisis had forced Zesa to import power and to ration energy to cope with the demand for power across the country.
HSP is among the 39 solar projects that were given a nod last year by the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera), with the thrust to improve power generation up to 1,151.87MW.
Centragrid, which is based in Nyabira, about 40km from central Harare, has started feeding 2.5MW into the national grid.
Government has approved the implementation of a large-scale programme to promote the importation and local production of solar equipment and the use of solar power as an alternative energy source.
It has also offered special incentives through duty waivers on imported solar equipment to help boost the construction of solar projects across the country.
Harava Solar co-founder and chief executive officer Mr Ainos Ngadya said the final stage to the completion of the plant involved the mounting of the panels.
“The project is now 70 percent complete and we are expecting to start feeding into the national grid in the next two months,” he said.
“All the equipment required to complete the project is now available, so we are sure the power plant will soon evacuate power into the national grid, feeding into the Dema substation.”
Upon completion, said Mr Ngadya, his company would start scholarship programmes mainly focusing on the girl child in line with the continent’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of improving gender parity.
A 132kV transmission line spanning 10 kilometres from the solar park to Dema substation has been set up.
Last year in November, Schweppes Zimbabwe Limited commissioned its 1MW solar plant.
This comes after the manufacturing company got a 25-year license for generating power earlier this year.
This license effectively gave them permission to build a 1MW solar plant at their Willowvale premises.
Last year, Government licenced 39 companies to commence solar projects, but many of them have not taken up the offer for various reasons.
Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi recently toured the Harava solar project and expressed satisfaction with its progress.
He warned those holding on to solar generation licences for speculative purposes that they risked having the licences cancelled.
“My ministry has to be clear on this; every project that has been licenced must do like what is happening here,” said Minister Chasi.
“We want to encourage those that has been licensed to begin.
“Those who are holding licences for speculative purposes, I am sorry to say that hour is long gone.”
Zimbabwe could make huge savings on energy import costs, achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on energy and contribute towards Vision 2030.
Under the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP), Government identifies solar as an alternative source of power, particularly for rural households in off-grid areas and seeks adoption of renewable energy sources.
As a result, Zimbabwe is forced to import expensive power from its neighbours, mainly South Africa and Mozambique.
By December 2018, Zimbabwe’s energy import bill had dropped to about $1,2 million monthly from at least $48 million as the country increased its local electricity generation.
For years, the country has been grappling to raise adequate foreign currency to pay for its energy imports.
Power imports chewed more than US$300 million in 2017, piling pressure on the country’s scarce foreign currency reserves.
According to official figures, Zimbabwe has an installed capacity of about 2 000MW, of which 58 percent is thermal and 37 percent is hydro, mainly from the Kariba South Power Station.
Others such as ethanol-based energy production (Green Fuel, Triangle and Hippo Valley) and a mini hydro generation produce 114MW mainly for own use and with a balance of 12MW supplied to the national grid.
It is estimated that Zimbabwe has a total demand for electricity of 2 029MW against average available supply of 1 200MW.
Most of the country’s generation units are old and inefficient, even though the Government has taken steps to upgrade the plants to increase capacity.
Going green is one of the best options to help with the energy crisis.
Renewable energy collected from renewable resources such as sunlight, waste, wind, water and geothermal heat, are some of the options that can be looked at.
The use of renewable energy can help accelerate access to energy, particularly for the majority of people without access to electricity and who are still using traditional biomass which causes much harm to the environment.