ZIMBABWEANS have been constructing new homes in residential areas that are not connected to the national electricity grid.
New housing developments in areas with existing electricity infrastructure have also resulted in a high demand, creating a huge burden.
According to Sustainable Energy For All, in Zimbabwe, access levels to electricity services is 40 percent (16 percent in rural areas, 78 percent in urban areas).
In the era of working from home as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, workers have been tapping into solar energy as they try to keep their laptops and mobile phones powered and connected to their offices during work hours.
With families spending more time at home also as a result of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, a good electricity supply has become more important for entertainment and other needs.
Small-scale farmers, too, have also been using solar energy for irrigation through solar powered boreholes, thereby increasing their yields.
The benefits and convenience that comes with solar energy has pushed more households to completely stay off the national grid.
Unlike an on-grid also known as grid-tied solar energy system which is connected to the utility grid, an off-grid solar energy system is not connected to the utility grid.
People who spoke to The Herald said they have no regrets for not being connected to the national grid.
“I am a new home-owner in Galloway, Norton, and use solar energy for all my household electricity,” said Mrs Marjory Moyo. “We are not connected to council water and my borehole also uses a solar-powered pump. My life is normal, even better as I do not endure any power outages.”
Mrs Moyo has been working from home since the beginning of the national lockdown in Zimbabwe in March and solar energy has helped keep her computer powered.
Mrs Michelle Gambe of Warren Park 1, Harare, said with high electricity bills, solar energy cushioned her family.
“Setting up may seem expensive, but the benefits that follow are priceless,” she said. “I am in the cake making business and my oven used a lot of power. I used to pay over $5 000 in electricity coupons per month.
“I no longer buy electricity, but use my gas stove. My fridge, television, lights and other gadgets are powered by a solar system.”
Mrs Gambe is considering completely going off the national grid.
Solar systems demand
A survey in Harare’s central business district revealed that several shops selling solar systems have become busier as customers ask for quotations, while others immediately buy.
A solar installer Mr James Gumbo said most new and existing home-owners they provided services in the past year were opting for off grid solar systems.
The off grid solar systems, he said, were the solution to the growing urbanisation challenges as they reduced demand for hydro-electricity power.
“More people are building houses and opting for solar-powered homes,” said Mr Gumbo. “Off-grid solar systems are becoming popular as they are more reliable. Solar also provides cleaner power.”
Mr Gumbo said an off-grid solar system means households are completely reliant on the sun and energy stored in batteries to power homes or businesses.
Another installer Mr Maxwell Tembo of Katanga in Norton said it was vital for home-owners to ensure their off-grid solar system is sized properly to meet daily power needs.
While there is a rush of buying solar system products, a lot of counterfeits have also penetrated the market, resulting in consumers being ripped off.
“Some shopowners have been selling substandard panels to consumers,” he said. “Most consumers have no idea on the types of panels batteries and inverter to buy. We had a case where a woman bought a substandard inventor, solar panels and battery and asked us to install for her.
“I refused to do so and told her to buy a new system. I did not want to charge her for a service that would only last a few months.”
Zimbabwe and other African countries’ reliance on hydro power energy has led to massive load shedding.
Resultantly, over the last decade, solar power capacity and energy generation has seen a rapid increase.
This has resulted in it becoming the fastest-growing source of renewable energy on the continent and globally.
According to the Renewable Energy Corporation, using solar powered systems is a proven way to reduce the amount of electricity drawn from fossil fuels, such as natural gas and coal.
“The clean renewable energy harnessed from the sun makes for a far more suitable alternative for your home, which in turn drastically cuts the total amount of energy your utility company once needed to meet the energy demand of your household.”
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasizes the imperatives of achieving universal energy access through increases in access to renewable energy and improvement in energy efficiency.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says given that the population in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow from 1 billion in 2018 to more than 2 billion in 2050, the demand for electricity is projected to expand 3 percent a year. This, the IMF adds, takes into account a steady increase in access to electricity as well as greater energy efficiency.
According to a UNDP report “Transforming lives through renewable energy access in Africa”, over the past decade, the cost of providing electricity through renewable energy has decreased considerably and is becoming competitive with conventional energy sources such as coal, gas and oil.
“For instance, the cost of a solar home system dropped from US$1 000 to US$350 over the past five years. This emerging trend offers African countries real opportunities to be creative when increasing access to affordable and reliable energy; utilizing decentralized energy sources will play a critical role,” reads the report.
“Further, forming partnerships with the private sector to identify and use optimal business models that help achieve affordable and reliable energy access will also be critical to achieving SDG 7 in Africa.”
The report pointed out how solar energy is a potential driver of economic diversification and growth in Africa.
“Opportunities lie in expanding investments to scale,” it reads. “This growth will require supporting quality standards in solar equipment, investing in training, removing bottlenecks for the private sector, and actively pushing for partnerships. UNDP has been working with stakeholders to deliver solar technologies, deepen market penetration, and promote technology transfer including through incubation.”
Globally, solar energy is one of the most untapped clean energy sources.
The UNDP report further pointed out that in 2016, the share of solar power generation was 1.3 percent, more than tripling in four years.
“In the same year, it increased by 29,6 percent,” it reads. “Despite Africa’s large share of the global population (16,5 percent) and even though Africa will account for over 80 per cent of the net global population by 2100, its 2016 share of the cumulative installed capacity of solar energy was too low.
“Africa’s installed capacity falls short of its potential. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) alone accounted for about 19 percent of global potential PV electricity output (1994-2015).”