Sustainable energy on the horizon?

Mr Ndowa Sengasenga, the secretary of the Chipendeke mini-hydro project explains how electricity is generated
Mr Ndowa Sengasenga, the secretary of the Chipendeke mini-hydro project explains how electricity is generated

The recent licensing of six more Independent Power Producers (IPPs) by the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) has been hailed by players in the energy sector as a step in the right direction.

A choking power crisis is besetting the country and hopefully the coming on board of the new players will mitigate the challenge.

Zera is a corporate body established in terms of the Energy Regulatory Act of 2011 to regulate the energy sector.

It is the Government’s objective to ensure that the energy sector’s potential to drive economic growth and reduce poverty is fully harnessed.

In an effort to achieve this goal, Government crafted the National Energy Policy which seeks to promote the optimal supply and utilisation of energy for socio-economic development.

Over the years, the country has been crippled by a power deficit, posing danger to productivity and the economic and social well-being of millions of people.

Despite the recent development, Zimbabwe’s ability to achieve the United Nations’ goal of achieving universal energy access by 2030 has been questioned.

According to ZERO — a regional environmental organisation — energy access means that poor people also have daily use of the energy they need for their well-being – be it for lighting, cooking and information and communications, among other uses. Legislative, technical and institutional barriers limit the development and use of renewable energy sources.

Players in the energy sector argue that the sector is still not entirely open to private sector participation. Private power producers have been alleging that public energy entities enjoyed preferential treatment.

According to the 2013 baseline energy report, Zimbabwe’s energy sector is not open to private sector participation.

The report states that private independent producers are discouraged from taking up the opportunities in the energy sector due to taxation policies.

Some of the obstacles affecting the development of local energy sources are related to pricing.

Zera has often disagreed with power producers over the cost of electricity.

Last year, the regulatory body turned down the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) submission for a 5 percent upward review of the electricity tariff from US 0,86c/kWh to US 10,36c/kWh.

The energy regulatory body turned down the submission after considering the harsh macro-economic conditions. Consumer groups and stakeholders had also protested the intended increase.

Players in the energy sector have often highlighted the absence of financial resources as the major obstacle to the provision of adequate electricity. Mini-hydro electricity projects constitute the majority of the new independent power producers that were recently given the nod to generate electricity. The schemes operate for a minimum of 25 years running from river systems which do not require a dam or storage facility.

ZERO’s Director Shepard Zvigadza said it was critical for the nation to utilise its natural resources such as water and terrain to improve power supply in the country.

“We have a lot of natural resources in the country. All we need to do is to invest in these energy programmes and we will be able to supply and export electricity. The Government and the private sector must support these programmes for the benefit of our nation,” Zvigadza said.

Zimbabwe is currently producing 1 200 megawatts of electricity against a demand of 2 200 megawatts. Only 37 percent of the country’s households have access to electricity. One of the renewable energy players, Nyangani Renewable Energy (NRE), recently commissioned a 15 megawatt power station. Previously, the same energy provider was producing 6,05 megawatt from a US$15 million investment. Before the licensing of the six additional players, Zera had issued 12 licences for various projects, among them mini-hydro plants that were commissioned to generate 2,7MW at Pungwe River in the Eastern Highlands.

Mr Reginald Mapfumo, the Energy Advocacy Officer for Hivos, a non- governmental organisation which deals with a number of issues, among them energy and environment, told The Sunday Mail Extra during a media tour of Manicaland that mini hydro systems can solve the country’s electricity shortages.

According to Mr Mapfumo, there are more than 100 potential mini-hydro sites in Manicaland, adding that the potential sites are capable of producing adequate electricity needs for the province and even beyond.

“Feasibility studies have shown that the Pungwe River alone is capable of producing adequate and even surplus electricity for Mutare, which has an electricity demand of 5MW. Studies revealed that the river can produce up to 10MW,” Mr Zvigadza said.

Zera estimates that small dams and rivers have the potential to produce more than 88, 4 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year. The Zambezi River, according to Zera, is the only river in the country which can generate large-scale hydro power around 18 600GWh per annum. The Duru hydro plant, which is located in Manicaland’s Mutasa district, has the capacity to produce 2,3 megawatts with the Siya plant in Bikita capable of producing 0,9 megawatts.

The Chisumbanje ethanol plant is currently generating 7 megawatts of electrical power. The plant, however, only requires 2 megawatts and the remainder is available for both the domestic and export markets. Feeding into the national grid has not started since the energy provider has not been regulated to do so. Manyuchi dam in Mwenezi can produce 1, 4 megawatts. The Chipendeke mini-hydro electricity project, which is situated along Chitora River in Manicaland Province, produces 25 kilowatts of electricity and serves the local community.

Ndowa Sengasenga, the Chipendeke mini-hydro secretary, said the commissioning of the plant transformed the community’s livelihoods.

“Thanks to the mini-hydro project, we are now involved in commercial farming. Besides generating electricity, the water from the plant is also used to irrigate our crops,” Mr Sengasenga said.

Throughout the year, the Chipendeke farmers grow potatoes, green maize, peas and green beans among other crops using water from the power plant. The current electricity shortage has led to the adoption of alternative energy sources which include solar and methane gas and bio-gas.

According to Zera, the country has a high solar radiation averaging 20 megajoules per square metre and 3 000 hours of sunshine per year. Solar photovotac and concentration power has a technical potential of over 300MW. Zera is currently working on securing Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) for Mutare and Masvingo city councils to enable them to start exploiting methane gas as an alternative energy source. Nigeria, the largest oil-producing country in Africa, is second only to India in the number of people living without electricity.

The United Nations seeks to ensure that every human being has access to energy by the year 2030.

It is estimated that in the next 20 years, 40 to 50 percent of the world’s energy needs will come from developing countries.

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