Renewable energy is the future

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
ZIMBABWE’S contribution to the global goal of climate change mitigation will be built around renewable energy, but there is no clear indication, yet, on the specific targets for quantifiable emission reductions, not now or anytime soon.

The plan mainly revolves around rapid on and off-grid solar and hydropower exploitation, Mr Washington Zhakata, director for climate change in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, told The Herald Business last week.

All nations of the earth, big or small, rich or poor, are now called to submit proposals to the UN on how they plan to curb greenhouse gases emissions beyond 2020, through what are known as intended nationally determined contributions, by March 31 or by September-end, latest.

The controversial INDCs are the building blocks towards a new global climate treaty to replace the expired Kyoto Protocol, and are due for adoption or rejection at the crucial Paris conference in De- cember.

Under the Protocol, only developed countries were compelled to commit, but that plan has failed, as several countries disregarded their historical responsibility.

“The INDC for Zimbabwe will primarily focus on the energy sector, with agriculture also providing an opportunity for both climate change adaptation and mitigation through the implementation of climate smart agricultural initiatives,” said Mr Zhakata, by email.

To zero-in on energy was deliberate. The sector released 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or 68 percent of Zimbabwe’s total emissions, when the last data was captured in 2000, according to the Second National Communication report. Agriculture produced 22,4 percent of CO2e, industry 5,2 percent and waste 3,9 percent. Attention will centre on expanding and promoting the use of renewable, cleaner energy technologies and enhancing energy efficiency, said Mr Zhakata.

“Since Zimbabwe is still developing with low economic productivity, focused mitigation presents a good opportunity for low carbon development pathways . . . Affordable sources of energy will be required to fuel Zimbabwe’s economic growth. It is in this regard that the INDCs should be structured to detail opportunities, gaps and constraints, thus setting a good baseline for sustainable development.”

Renewables’ potential

Much of Zimbabwe’s energy has historically come from non-renewable energies. At 53 percent, wood is the most widely used energy source, some 15-year-old statistics from power utility, Zesa show.

Coal, liquid fossil fuels and electricity account for the remainder. These figures are more than likely to have changed by now. And while wood is generally regarded a renewable energy, such an assertion is debatable in a country that loses 330 000 hectares to deforestation each year.

There’s only 750MW of installed on-grid hydro capacity in the country. As of March 5, Zimbabwe was generating 59 percent or 614 megawatts of its total 1025MW from hydro, half of national requirements, according to the Zesa website.

This is not usually the case, however. When not let down by antiquated equipment, the 920MW capacity coal-fired Hwange plant provides most of the power.

Currently, Hwange is producing just 270MW. Small thermal plants at Harare, Bulawayo and Munyati add 30MW, 26MW and 24MW to the grid, respectively.

Now, as Zimbabwe is planning to run with cleaner energies, the country’s energy regulator, Zera, last December licensed nine private power companies, five of which are targeting 3 500MW from dirty fossil fuels.

It is important to note that while solar as a source for cooking, heating and lighting is fairly widespread in many homes across the country, it does not feature as a prominent source of energy in the national mix. Biogas is absent from the picture, too.

Only last year the Zimbabwe Power Company began feasibility studies for a 300MW solar plant at Gwanda, Insukamini and Munyati. The plant will cost around $635 million. But despite its potential, solar has struggled to take off in Zimbabwe, which has one of the highest solar radiations in the world.

Lawmakers are puzzled at this failure.

“As a country, we enjoy very good climate. We probably have sunlight almost throughout the year; it then makes me wonder how a country like Germany which does not get as much sunlight as we do, is able to have more solar energy than we do?” asked Annastacia Ndlovu (MP), who chairs the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment in the august House on January 29.

Policy changes

Zimbabwe will not meet the March 31 deadline. It has only recently taken receipt of a $200 000 grant from the UN’s Environment Programme to facilitate the compilation of a detailed INDCs plan.

That plan will only be ready by August 31 in time for the final September-end submission deadline, says Elisha Moyo, principal climate change researcher in the Climate Ministry. But the country has refused to put pressure on itself by setting targets on emission cuts, as is common among industrialised states.

“We are under no obligation to provide specific emission reduction targets,” said Mr Moyo, by telephone.

For that to happen, many things will first have to change.

“There are a lot factors to consider, such as if the economy was performing optimally, and whether we get financing (for implementing potential mitigation plans),” he said.

On February 27 Switzerland became the first nation to submit plans for cutting emissions. It aims for GHG reductions of 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, with 30 percent achieved at home and the remainder through carbon-limiting investments overseas.

The US, China and the European Union last year released emission curbing plans, but have yet to present them to the UN.

Emissions targets would be pushing the boundary too far for Africa, already encumbered by poverty and slow economic development.

“In the next ten years or so, developing countries should be left out to develop, though sustainable, using the latest technologies that yields maximum possible productivity,” said Mr Zhakata.

At the policy level, changes are beginning to take shape. As part of the mitigation plan, all future dams to be built in Zimbabwe will be required to include a hydropower generation component, according to the Renewable Energy Policy, currently being developed.

The National Energy Policy of 2012 lays out plans for expanding solar, hydro and biofuels by end of this decade. All new homes and commercial buildings will be required to use only solar geysers. That was due for enactment beginning 2013. It did not happen. The NEP targets “cost-reflective feed-in tariffs with appropriate subsidy mechanisms” as an incentive to boosting solar energy generation.

God is faithful.

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