Zimbabwe’s erratic energy supplies are a stumbling block for the proliferation of ICT to propel the economy. The country is dependent on its neighbours for fuel supplies and owes mammoth debts to regional electricity producers. It has also not kept up with rest of the world’s quest to find sustainable energy sources. Fossil fuels are key culprits of global warming and finite in the sense that they are running out.
Amidst such bleak facts, one company has unlocked a huge opportunity to quench this thirst for energy in a sustainable manner. Green Fuel Zimbabwe has been running recruitment ads in local papers for some time and has also been referenced in various articles. The company has set aside USD $600 million to develop 65,000 hectares (650 Square Kilometers) of sugarcane on two plantations in Chisumbanje and Middle Sabi. It is a BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) joint venture between Arda, Macdom (Pvt) Limited and Rating (Pvt) Limited. The thought of a plantation might not sound technological, that is before appreciating the fact that 65% of the components used for the plant were produced locally. In essence one of Africa’s biggest ethanol plants is going to call Zimbabwe home and over half of the technology used to build it is local, this is a very big deal universally.
Ethanol is derived from crops like sugarcane and can be used to supplement petroleum and diesel products. Its commercial viability is globally acknowledged as some countries have significantly reduced their energy needs through its usage. Brazil for example has almost completely eliminated fuel imports, largely relying on ethanol to ‘drive’ its economy. Those promoting the use of ethanol have sung of its benefits as it can single handedly work as a fuel (biofuel) while those against its usage have blamed it for playing a part in increasing food prices around the world. Ethanol can be derived from potatoes, maize, sugarcane and other crops. Thankfully Zimbabwe’s Green Fuel will derive its ethanol from sugarcane sourced from its own plantation, so this will not affect the cost of food.
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Players in the corporate space (especially mobile operators & ISPs) have traditionally used power shortages as a scapegoat for high tariffs and poor service delivery. Green Fuel will play a significant role in mitigating such cases by providing access to cheaper energy for backup power systems. Furthermore, the firm is looking forward to become a private power producer by 2014 through the use of molasses (waste) from the ethanol plant. According to official information it will contribute approximately 18 MW to the national grid. The Harare generation station’s current output is 20MW so this will be significant.
Unlike hype builders who say a lot and do very little, the company has been working on its project for sometime now and has set a target of creating over a thousand jobs. It appears that Green Fuel has the pockets and the willpower to realize its goals and to positively transform Zimbabwe.