Three Gorges New Energy Floating Solar Farm, China. Image Credit: YSG Solar
The British are known to talk about the weather, a lot. Some say it’s just an icebreaker or awkward silence filler topic but the main reason is that the weather is mostly terrible. The same applies to Zimbabwe when it comes to the electricity situation. We can’t help but talk about it.
As I write this, the Zimbabwe Power Company says we are producing 567MW from all our sites. This is against a peak demand of 2200MW in winter, which we are probably close to with the chilly weather we’ve had lately.
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We are producing around 26% of the electricity we need and it is no wonder then that we have rolling 18-hour power cuts.
This explains why the majority of Zimbabweans are turning to solar for their power needs. Zimbabwe is now the biggest adopter of solar systems in Africa. Families and businesses alike are turning to sun-power.
We found out recently that even government ministries and departments have turned to solar too. The Solar for Health project has saved lives by making sure health centres, especially in rural areas, have the electricity they need to offer life-saving operations to pregnant women.
That’s all well and good but we should really adopt solar as a nation now. Not the haphazard way we are currently doing it. Granted, there are a few solar projects that have been announced.
The government should lean into solar, adjust its duties and taxes on solar equipment, incentivise adoption by businesses, arm the relevant authorities to make sure we only import the right quality equipment etc.
To top it off, we need the government itself to properly adopt solar and floating solar panels could be the right fit for Kariba.
It’s a simple idea really. Instead of installing panels on rooftops and on the ground, solar panels are placed on rafts and float atop water bodies. Lake Kariba, the largest man-made water reservoir in the world, would be perfect for this with its 5,580 km2 surface area.
Of course, we couldn’t cover the whole lake with solar panels but we should have a significant area to work with for the floatovoltaics project.
We have to leave space so sunlight can reach the plants below so they can produce oxygen for the fishes. Some area for fishing those fishes and recreational activities would have to be reserved too but with 5,580 km2 to work with, we would still be good.
Researchers say 30% of the surface area should be good.
Why this would be a good idea
The first and obvious advantage is the extra electricity we would generate from these floating panels. Researchers say thousands of cities across the world could power themselves entirely from such floating panels. I think Kariba would be a good candidate too.
The second advantage of these floatovoltaics is that they would reduce evaporation. Researchers project major water savings.
In late 2022 we dealt with record-low water levels at Kariba which resulted in power generation being stopped completely at some point. Water levels were 477.90m (16.70% usable storage) on 13th March 2023.
An increase in rainfall activity led to improvement but we are still susceptible to what happened last year. We have been getting droughts more frequently in the last couple of decades, so the risk that evaporation poses is real. Floating panels would help us conserve the water we do have.
Low water levels mean less hydroelectricity and so the floating panels would help keep Kariba operating closer to full capacity. So, we are looking not only at the extra electricity generated from the floating panels but also at improved/guaranteed hydroelectric power.
The relationship is not one-sided, the hydro gives to the solar too. If you’ve ever been to Kariba, you know how hot it gets up there.
Well, it sounds a little off but solar panels do not actually operate optimally in great heat. Great heat reduces solar panels’ efficiency by up to 25% apparently. Solar cells produce solar power most efficiently between 15°C and 35°C.
When those solar panels are floating atop Kariba, the water would help cool them, keeping them in the sweet 15-35°C range.
To sweeten all the advantages above, moving our solar panels to the waters means they would no longer compete with agricultural or conservation projects.
It’s already happening around the world
Floatovoltaics are popular in Asia, with the top 5 all coming from the continent. The biggest, Dezhou Dingzhuang Floating Solar Farm in China produces 320MW.
Some countries, including the US, are getting in on the action too. I think Zimbabwe could do well to look in this direction too.
What do you think about all this? Do let us know in the comments section below.
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28 thoughts on “Zimbabwe should jump on floating solar panels, would benefit Kariba”
The idea is OK But….
I’d imgaine there are a few buts. Which one jumps to mind for you?
But think of the ecosystem. If we go for scale that matters on a national level, parts of the lake will suffer catastrophic damage. Oxygen production will drop, fish all the way down to microbial and plant life will reduce, in turn starving out larger species. If we go for minimal impact, we end up with negligible output.
This, however, changes if we are just talking about reservoirs with no preexisting ecosystems to protect. Then we can go all out and end up with the water volume preservation effect that these can create by reducing evaporation.
Remember these people thought they were doing the right thing when they created the corona virus and HIV virus so I would not trust anything these people say….common sense tells us this will be bed for our ecosystem and we should follow that instinct.
You raise a good point. Can we trust what these people say? In light of recent events, the answer is a resounding no. However, this research is not coming from just one part of the world, but scientists across the world have looked into this and they are of similar opinion, more or less. The incentive to cook the books on this research doesn’t seem massive to me, but maybe I’m missing something.
They do say they have researched how much surface area we can cover without affecting the life below. 30% of the surface area is the ballpark. Kariba is large enough that we could see proper benefits with that 30%. The question is, ‘do we trust this research?’ Or maybe we should wait and see what happens in those pioneering countries?
The death of the ecosystem and the earth is Inevitable,lets just do whatever we must and survive for now
I wouldn’t put it that way but I understand where you are coming from. Should we starve current generations in an effort to save these ecosystems? We have to be careful though not to kill our future by focusing on today’s needs.
Great idea but, with the hunger out there, matemba poachers would obviously and quickly switch to the more lucrative “photovoltaic fish”.
Other countries simply float plastic balls in their lakes to reduce evaporation, but muno dololo plans or actions. Perhaps it impacts the water based ecosystems.
It does but these researchers say it’s possible to not affect those ecosystems. So, it’s just the dololo plans/actions that’s mostly to blame. This time around, after the 2022 we faced, we just have to look into all this. The rains will be gone soon and the water levels will start dropping again.
🤣🤣 I had not considered that. Security would need to be tightened but from what we’re seeing when it comes to transformer oil, copper cables etc the poachers would most likely derail the project.
These guys don’t care, the head of the power utility probably has a 10 KVa system at his house. Meanwhile, he is “decisively” dealing with the power crisis.
Ours is a leadership crisis. You sometimes wish we don’t embark on any projects because you know those in charge will just use said projects to plunder. We end up with sub-standard products and rich govt authorities.
Whilst this is a good idea, i think techzim u may also research on wind power, we have Eastern highlands with lots of mountains and wind which blows throughout the year. I am waiting for that article from you. I heard it’s s even more sustainable.
Wind is interesting but I’m a bit torn on it. We obviously need every watt we can get, but the long-term of the tech that’s finally being documented makes me think it might not be the best fit for us, especially if it’s under government. High cost is a given. Turbine maintenance can be intense and the blades have to be replaced regularly. The blades in particular have no direct path to easy recycling or repurposing.
This as well. Wind might not be the move.
We will look into wind but from what we’ve gathered, it would not be suitable for Zimbabwe. Only a few areas in the country are windy enough, it’s super expensive etc. We will do the proper research though.
Unlike other rivers and water bodies whose level does not change significantly, the design of the floating panels on our lake will have to consider the ever changing levels. Hoping at the level hydro power generation stops we won’t have some of the panels that are supposed to be floating resting on the rocks at different angles to the detriment of solar power generation.
Hoping the lake does not skew in the way it did where Zambia did not have load shedding due to water levels on the lake, whe we had due to levels on our side, otherwise we would have the panels sitting on top of each other towards the lakeshore!
I might be mistaken here but I don’t think the water levels drop to levels where the panels could hit the ground. Even when we say there isn’t enough water for power generation, there would still be enough water to float panels, even boats.
I’m into solar systems I think this is a brilliant idea, and the efficiency of the panels will be amazing my concern is about solar mongers and effects to the aquatic life.
Those are valid concerns. The research says we need not worry about aquatic life, if we cover less than 30% of the surface area with panels, it won’t affect the life below. The solar monger issue though. We would need a plan for that but we can be sure theft would be massive problem.
I think this will lead to more pollution of water bodies…..we should just stick to land solar farms coz I don’t trust these people who are responsible for creating Corona virus.
If it was just the Chinese pushing this research then that would be a stronger concern. As it stands, this is accepted the world over. Not to say we should trust it because of that but it means it’s a little more trustworthy.
We have spans of land ready for that.Kariba is a highly sensetive ecosystem thus would need for a thorough research on how those floating things would harm the lake or not and unfortunately it might take plenty of years.
Much of of our electricity is being looted how can sell electricity if you don’t have enough it’s funny