The Sunday Mail
As electricity shortages continue to escalate, many now resort to alternative energy sources.
Zimbabwe’s power consumption is currently the third highest in sub-Saharan Africa and will continue to increase as the economy recovers.
The country currently produces about 1 300 megawatts (MW) against a demand of 2 200 MW. To satisfy the deficit, 35 percent of total demand is imported from Mozambique and DRC.
The Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) says electricity shortages in the region are set to escalate as countries industrialise resulting in more power cuts.
Unless capacity is quickly increased, Zimbabwe will endure continued power cuts. This will result in more people turning to other sources of electricity.
As a result of Zesa’s failure to avail its infrastructure to new users, it is believed that three quarters of people building houses between now and 2030 will rely on solar energy and gas for domestic use.
A snap survey by The Sunday Mail In-Depth revealed that due to high electricity tariffs and inadequate power supplies which are triggering chronic load shedding, most people are now turning to solar geysers and gas stoves.
There has also been a significant increase in the number of people that are using biomass energy, which is derived from plants and other organic materials.
Statistics compiled by the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency show that two in every five people in Zimbabwe rely on wood, charcoal and animal waste for energy.
According to the National Energy Policy of 2012, only 37 percent of Zimbabwean households have access to electricity and development experts say the country should consider promoting the use of solar energy.
Currently solar gadgets not meant for commercial purposes are imported duty free as the Government is promoting access to the alternative energy.
Affordable solar panels are readily available in most shops countrywide. There has been an influx of cheap solar panels from South Africa and China.
A modern home in sub-Saharan Africa requires a solar power kit that costs between US$500 and US$1 000 to install and capable to power essential domestic appliances.
Apart from abundance and affordability, solar energy is a clean and renewable energy.
Other power users have turned to Liquefied Petroleum (LP) which is also readily available and affordable.
Gas stoves range from US$55 to US$1 000, depending on size and type.
With the coming in of alternative energy and the opening up of the electricity sector to private players, pundits say the development will erode the reliance on Zesa.
In 2012, the Ministry of Energy and Power Development launched the National Energy policy which seeks to give solutions to the current energy challenges.
Among other things, the policy aims to give Zimbabweans full access to modern energy sources by the year 2040.
It also seeks to find ways of curbing the current energy crisis.
Proposals have been made to review the laws that govern the licensing of private energy producers with a view to allow independent electricity players to feed into the national grid.
A number of independent electricity producers such as Green Fuels and Tongaat Hulett have in the past indicated that they are willing to feed into the national grid.
Green Fuels claims it is capable of producing electricity that will cater for the whole of the Manicaland province.
Sugar-producing giant Tongaat Hulett has also intimated that it is capable of producing electricity that satisfies the needs of consumers in Masvingo province.
On the other hand, the discovery of coal-bed methane gas in the Hwange/Lupane basin will result in gas being available in abundance on the local market.
This is projected to lead to a reduction in the load on Zesa, a situation that will enable more electricity to be channelled towards industries.
The manufacturing sector says it will be difficult to see full capacity utilisation in the absence of reliable electricity supplies.
Contacted for a comment on Zesa’s expansion plans and measures to provide energy to at least 67 percent of the population that is currently living in the dark, the power utility’s spokesperson, Mr Fullard Gwasira, said the company’s role was clearly explained in the National Energy Policy.
“You will find answers to your questions in the National Energy Policy. The policy is clear on the role that Zesa will be playing in the future,” Mr Gwasira said without elaborating.
The NEP identifies key challenges in the exploitation, distribution and utilisation of different energy resources, and provides broad policy objectives and strategies to address those challenges.
According to the policy: “Electricity supply and use is one of the most important aspects within the energy sector in Zimbabwe — in both supporting commercial activities and supplying power to domestic consumers.
“In order to improve the efficiency of the industry and attract private investment, Government will continue with its programme of encouraging Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to participate in the sector.
It is also important that the supply infrastructure be continuously upgraded to meet the needs of industry and society.”
Zimbabwe’s electricity generation has been in sharp decline since the 1990s with virtually no new investments.
A plethora of problems has been haunting Zesa, among them a huge import debt and poor infrastructure.
The power utility is on record saying Zesa faces challenges in generating electricity because of obsolete equipment.
Some of the power utility’s power stations were built in the 1960s.
Zesa is also struggling to recover an US$800 million debt owed by defaulting customers.