Govt moves to incorporate solar into energy mix

05 Feb, 2020 - 00:02 0 Views

The Chronicle

Lungelo Ndhlovu

Government is moving fast to incorporate solar into its energy mix to help ease the country’s power-shortage and complement long-serving fossil fuels and hydro capacity. 

Since coming into power in 2017, President Mnangagwa’s mantra has been “Zimbabwe is Open for Business” to attract much-needed investment into the country including renewable energy projects.

But, the renewable energy sector has not realised much funding due to certain bottlenecks such as prohibitive fee structures when one wants to set up businesses in the country, corruption, policy inconsistency and bureaucracy. Liquidity challenges are also hindering potential investors from starting renewable energy projects in the country.

Recently, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) revealed that some unscrupulous locals are misleading especially foreign potential investors by misrepresenting themselves as middlemen who could fast-track licensing processes on their behalf.

Such misrepresentation scuttles investment opportunities as investors are put off by fraudulent practices. 

In a statement, Zera said: “These people misrepresent themselves as middlemen who can ‘organise meetings and follow up on progress’ in the licensing process at a fee payable by unsuspecting investors.”

The regulator thus advised investors and the public not to work through third parties such as middlemen, facilitators or agents outside the country.

European Union (EU) Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Timo Olkkonen recently told Chronicle that renewable energy was important for households, especially for the country’s economic growth but also observed that there were bottlenecks when it came to investments into the sector.

He cited that Zimbabwe was not eligible for some funding due to its failure to service some debts although observers assert that this was because of EU sanctions on the country.

“Zimbabwe is excluded from the External Investment Plan loans to fund renewable energy projects, but that is not due to sanctions as perceived by some people but because the country has debts that it must service,” he said.

However, Mr Olkkonen said Zimbabwe could try and access funding from private loan investments despite “some bottlenecks”. 

“Renewable energies should be the way to go in Zimbabwe, and solar should be a no-brainer but I’m aware of some hindrances for use in industrial purposes that need a stable mode all the time, so it is not a panacea for everything but clearly it should be a huge part of the answer. It’s good for small scale usage for households taking off the grid from a larger scale,” he said.

Zimbabwe knows the importance of investing in renewable energy to augment power supply and in his 2020 Plan, Finance and Economic Development Minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube said Government would be offering incentives to those who invested in solar as a means to promote renewable energy use.

In 2018, Government figures showed that there were more than 100 000 solar power systems installed in homes across the country, as people resorted to alternative means of electrifying their homes.

In the same year, Minister of Energy and Power Development, Fortune Chasi warned the country’s 30 Independent Power Producers (IPPs) risked losing their licences for failing to execute on their renewable energy projects.

He said the move would open up the renewable energy space to serious players and investors that could contribute to power generation projects with the expectation of helping the country meet its immediate power supply needs plus feeding surplus energy into the national grid. 

Foreign missions such as the United States have also realised the need to invest in alternative means of power in Zimbabwe, as a project at Esigodini District Hospital received funding for a solar back up system from the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) under support for HIV services through the USAID implementing partner OPHID.

The district hospital runs an Electronic Health Records (HER) System which stores patient data electronically and is important in the fight against HIV/Aids as it is complemented by Care-based Surveillance and Recent Infections Surveillance for Umzingwane District in Matabeleland South province. 

“One of the things that we saw here is a solar back-up system.  Since Esigodini Hospital is the central site for the entire district, they have to maintain power here. All the information from other health sites comes here, so Esigodini District Hospital has to maintain power 24 hours a day. Obviously, that is difficult in Zimbabwe today (noting the electricity load shedding). So through our partners, we were able to fund the solar panel system which provides back-up for that system,” said US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas Hastings during a recent media tour of Esigodini District Hospital.

In 2019, the US government contributed $163 million to the HIV/Aids effort in Zimbabwe and since PEPFAR began, it has offered over a billion dollars in support of such programmes. 

According to experts, energy lies at the core of the key global challenges of the 21st century making it imperative to address global energy needs in a sound sustainable manner, away from burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are natural fuels such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms and are used for energy generation mainly through combustion.

Scientists say burning fossil fuels release carbon into the atmosphere which depletes the ozone layer. This in turn leads to global warming. Fossil fuels provide most of the energy that supports human transportation, electricity production, heating and cooling of buildings, and industrial activity but are the major causes of climate change.

The usage of coal is increasing daily, thereby also increasing the amount of carbon dioxide being released to the environment, potentially causing climate change. In the 1990s, human fossil fuel use emitted 6.4 Petagrams of carbon (PgC) per year, and from 2000 to 2008, 7.7 PgC/yr. Over 2000 to 2008, emissions increased by 3,4 percent per year, substantially faster than the growth rate of one percent per year in the 1990s.

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