Promoting and investing in renewable energy could be one of the most effective vehicles to fight against climate change and help Zimbabwe attain its middle income status by 2030.

Talent Chimutambgi

Participants at the just ended Second Renewable Energy and Power Infrastructure Investors’ Conference all agree that investing in and promoting renewable energy can increasingly save the country money, cut emissions from fossil fuels and put the nation on a firm footing to achieve its 2030 vision.

The Ministry of Energy and Power Development convened the conference through Renpower Zimbabwe to come up with strategies to promote the use of renewable energy to end the power crisis facing the country.

Secretary for Energy and Power Development Ministry Dr Gloria Magombo said renewable energy was a key enabler for the attainment of Vision 2030.

“As a country we cannot realise our dream of becoming a middle income economy by 2030 without renewable energy as a key driver,” she said.

“When you look at the energy mix for you to be assured of energy security, we need all these players in the energy sector to come in.

“Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) is the main utility which is providing power using hydro and thermal to generate electricity, which means the coming in of renewable energy can help us to survive than waiting for the major power stations.”

Dr Magombo said Zimbabwe needs new investment that could see new private players playing a major role in increasing the country’s power generation capacity.

Parliament passed the Electricity Act in 2002 to open up the energy sector to ensure energy security.

Zimbabwe is facing serious power shortages which have forced power utility Zesa to roll out power cuts lasting up to more than 10 hours daily in most parts of the country.

This is leading to the decimation of large tracts of forests as wood becomes the main source of heating and cooking for the majority of the poor.

Zesa imposed the worst rolling blackouts in three years in May, with households and industries going without electricity due to lack of foreign currency, declining water levels at Kariba Hydropower Station and obsolete equipment at Hwange Thermal Power Station.

Many settlements throughout the country are now receiving less than seven hours of electricity per day from the national grid, pushing up demand for firewood and charcoal in both urban and rural areas.

All this is now forcing the Government and all other key stakeholders to look to renewables such as solar, wind, hydro and other green energy solutions to help address the current power crisis.

“We don’t need to anchor our supply only on non-renewable energy but also to have renewables which are cheaper, sustainable and environmentally friendly,” Dr Magombo said.

“Non-renewable sources of energy such as coal, gas, oil and others pollute the environment and can be exhausted over time. We have to invest more in renewable energy and promote its uptake to fight climate change and address our energy insecurities.”

Business Council for Sustainable Development Zimbabwe executive director Tawanda Muzamwese concurred that gravitating towards energy diversity would address climate change issues, stimulate economic growth and enhance access to energy by all.

“Once we move towards industrial energy efficiency we are also addressing the issue of climate change issues,” he said.

“As an association we are happy that more companies are now regarding renewable energy as a core element of their business strategy. They are looking to renewables to enhance efficiency and make significant savings on costs.”

A number of companies have now installed solar systems at their premises to reduce reliance on the main grid and to minimise disruptions associated with load-shedding.

Schweppes Zimbabwe is now working on a 1MW solar project to support its operations and reduce reliance on the main grid.

WithZesa struggling to provide adequate connections to growing demand in both rural and urban areas, participants say the country should push aggressively for new off-grid solutions to help the country achieve universal access to sustainable energy by 2030.

The recent commissioning of Zimbabwe’s first solar-powered 99kw mini-grid in Gwanda rural district, which is now benefiting more than 10 000 people, is a sustainable model which needs to be replicated across the country.

The Mashaba solar-powered mini-grid was funded by the European Union (EU) Aid for Development Cooperation in Africa, the Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP Group) Countries, with co-financing from the OPEC Fund for Internation Development (OFID) and the UNDP  Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

The small and decentralised solar power system operates independently of the main grid managed by Zesa.

JINKO Solar Company official Miliscent Chidamba urged the country to embrace solar energy and promote its uptake to enhance access to energy by all.

“Solar is the way to go now,” she said. “We should promote its uptake and roll out policies that will see the majority of the people embracing it. People want affordable solar products.”

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) official Anne Madzara said her organisation had supported the installation of 500 solar energy systems throughout the country’s in healthcare centres which are not connected to the main grid.

“United Nations (UN) through the Global Fund has installed more than 500 solar systems in various health institutions to augment energy supply. In line with the Paris Agreement, a total of 60,5 percent of emissions are from energy. Opting for renewable energy would save the environment from these threats posed as a result of emissions,” she said.

Econet subsidiary Distributed Power Africa (DPA) chief executive officer Divyajeet Mahajan told participants about his company’s new multimillion-dollar 466kw solar power plant at its Willowvale industrial complex.

He said Econet was moving towards adopting clean and sustainable energy through the commercial and industrial carport and roof mount installations to tap solar energy to cut power costs and reduce reliance on non-renewable energy.

“This is the model we are promoting,” he said. “We are making huge savings on energy and this is how the private sector should complement Government efforts to address the current power crisis.”

Dr Magombo urged private players to invest in the country’s energy sector to promote universal access to energy.

“Private players are not competing with Zesa, they are complementing Government efforts to promote the universal access to modern energy in line with our Vision 2030 goals,” she said.

“By 2030 we require an additional of 9 000MW and we should achieve this by allowing more players in the energy sector to fill in the energy gaps.”

Participants, in turn, urged the Government to create a conducive policy and regulatory environment to attract investment in the energy sector.

Discussions at the conference mainly centred on Zimbabwe’s Renewable Energy Masterplan, policy and energy regulatory environment, renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency developments in Zimbabwe, financing and investment in renewable energy and power infrastructure as well as off-grid electricity transmission and storage.

The conference attracted participants from local, regional and international players in the energy, finance, policy, industrial and engineering sectors.

With much of Zimbabwe’s grid power network overstretched and in need of repair, renewable energy solution is key to helping the majority of the poor to access energy as well as to attain the country’s Sustainable Development Goals on energy, health, education, food security and a sustainable environment.

-The Herald