Zimbabwe may soon bring to an end a debilitating power crisis and achieve self-sufficiency in power supply through measures aimed at achieving sustainable energy mix that have seen it dole out several licences to independent power producers (IPPs) keen to invest in solar energy.
With a demand of as much as 2 200MW out-tripping domestic average output of about 800MW at the peak of demand, the country experiences crippling power deficits that cause up to 18 hours or even days of power cuts, often, with devastating impact on the economy and households.
Although the country recently expanded capacity at Kariba South by 300MW, to make the plant the country’s biggest and ordinarily the most reliable power plant, shifting weather patterns have reduced the hydro station’s dependability, making solar a viable option to the power mix.
Already, the country makes much of its power from the hydro plant at Kariba South and coal at Hwange, as small thermals in Bulawayo, Munyati and Harare have been decommissioned due to old age. Growing production will add a sustainable source of clean energy to the energy mix.
It has become obvious that investment in solar could be just what the doctor ordered, as Zimbabwe seeks a quick end to the crippling shortage of electricity, which costs the country millions of scarce US dollars in imports each year and affects operations in industry, commerce, mining and agriculture.
The power cuts have cost manufacturers more than US$200 million in lost production between June and September last year, according to the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) and Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC), also forcing firm’s to cut down production.
At one-point last year, the Government said it would import 300 MW from the region and negotiate an additional 400MW from South Africa. The country, though, had a huge debt from previous regional imports, including Eskom of South Africa, which often threatened cuts over unpaid dues.
But ongoing and planned projects, including expanding the second largest plant, Hwange Power Station (rated 900MW but producing under 500MW due to old equipment) by 600MW, will result in the country seeing the back of its worst power crisis soon that has stretched over a decade and half.
One of the interventions by Government that will help the country achieve its objective of sufficient power supply and balanced energy mix is growing popularity and efforts to bring on board solar IPPs with several planned and a handful already operational and a few still under construction.
The Zimbabwe Electricity Regulatory Authority (ZERA) says it has approved a total of 46 private independent power producer (IPP) licence applications for solar power projects to date, including two planned for Zhombe and Goromonzi with combined output of 40,6 megawatts (MW).
ZERA chief executive officer (CEO) Mr Edington Mazambani, confirmed to this publication saying several applications had been granted, including a number issued this year and among them were CoreZim 20,6MW licence for Sesombe near Kwekwe and 20MW Chibani Solar near Harare.
Although Mr Mazambani could, however, not provide finer details on the total expected power output from the projects, with 13 of the 46 licences having been granted were issued this year, indications are that the licenced solar projects have potential to produce more than 1 200MW.
ZERA has also issued several licences for both producing and developing non solar power projects in line with the Government’s efforts to ramp up electricity output to end crippling power shortages.
“The one for CoreZim has been granted, it was granted in March this year, but they got the actual licence I think in May. But this year, off the cuff, I think there are many of these (including) four for RioZim, one for Triangle Solar and another for Chibani Solar,” Mr Mazambani said.
Gold miner RioZim intends to build solar power plants for each of its mines in Renco, Cam and Motor in Kadoma, Murowa Diamonds in Murowa and Dalny Mine in Chegutu.
CoreZim had said earlier this year that if approved, its project will involve construction of a 22-kilometre transmission line to feed into the Zesa grid.
“There are 8 operational solar projects, 4 under construction and about 34 still to commence construction,” Mr Mazambani said in an interview. Two of the projects that are already operational are the Nyabira centragrid and Harava, which are already feeding the national grid.
The single biggest solar power project for a single site that ZERA has approved are three 100MW initiatives namely Ganda, Insukamini in Bulawayo and Munyati in Kwekwe.
Zimbabwe faces acute shortage of power with demand at peak periods of 1800MW far outstripping supply, which averages below 800MW, especially after output at the country’s largest plant, Kariba South hydro station was curtailed by low water levels due to a severe drought.
So as more and more solar stations are added to the grid they can take an even higher percentage of the daylight load, allowing Zesa to cut back at Kariba during daytime and store that water so more generators can be used during the early morning and late evening peaks and during the night.