BY Nokuthaba dlamini
Zesa has cobbled up a US$500 million plan to end rolling electricity cuts by building solar power plants across the country in partnership with private investors.
Zimbabwe last year introduced an 18-hour daily load-shedding schedule after electricity production at the country’s main source of hydropower — Kariba Dam —fell dramatically due to dwindling water levels at the lake.
The power cuts have crippled industry, with companies being forced to resort to alternative sources of energy such as generators amid grinding fuel shortages in the country.
On Friday, Zimbabwe’s power stations were only producing 569 megawatts (MW) of electricity against daily demand of 1 475 MW.
Kariba was generating a meagre 390 MW, leaving the country with a huge electricity shortfall.
The struggling power utility now feels that solar power plants across 10 sites to be developed by private investors would end load-shedding by 2022.
Ikhupuleng Dube, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) systems development manager, unveiled the ambitious plan at the recent International Renewable Energy Conference and Expo organised by The Standard in Victoria Falls.
Dube said ZETDC, a Zesa subsidiary, would award tenders for the projects by November this year and expects construction to take between nine months and a year.
He said the identification of sites for the solar projects would be completed by mid-next month.
“Most of the plants should be in by June 2022. The estimated costs are US$1 million per MW,” Dube revealed. “This means total costs for the 500MW would be about US$500 million.”
Zesa has been struggling to finance electricity imports to plug the local shortages.
The power utility owes South African and Mozambican power utilities millions of dollars and in turn local consumers owe Zesa over US$2 billion.
Dube said they expected private investors to fund the solar projects.
“Financing will be raised by private investors who will bid for each site with capacities ranging from 20mw to 50mw depending on the current demand at each site,” he said.
“We will reduce load-shedding at identified key economic areas as well as feeding to the grid.
“The implementation will assist to conserve daytime use of water at Kariba and mitigate against climatic change.
“More sources of renewable energy sources will be added as the load grows and to the limit imposed by the capacity of the grid to accommodate renewables without creating operational challenges posed by large contribution of renewables.”
Already, independent power producers were contributing 25MW to the national greed as of March 12.
Zesa’s long-term power projects include the Batoka Gorge hydropower station that might add 1 200MW to the grid by 2027 and another hydropower plant at the Devil’s Gorge on the Zambezi River scheduled for 2032.
The proposed Devil’s Gorge project is a regional project and will contribute 250MW.
Zimbabwe’s economy has been dogged by lack of adequate energy for a number of years and the government last week said it was shifting its focus to renewable sources of electricity to plug the gaps.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week launched the National Renewable Energy and Biofuels policies in a bid to step up the country’s development of alternative sources of energy.