As I write this, the Zimbabwe Power Company is producing 684MW of electricity, against a demand that is likely around 2200MW with this chilly weather. Pre-school maths tells me, that we are around 1500MW short, hence the load shedding. This is happening on most days.
It doesn’t feel like it but the government is trying to rectify this. Solutions include:
- Importing the deficit from neighbouring countries – forex shortages, coupled with, let’s be honest, low tariffs mean we often fail to pay our suppliers. We owe pretty much every country that ever supplied us with electricity. Leading to Zimbabwe being cut off.
- Improving the efficiency of existing power plants – personally, I’m mostly against this, especially at Hwange. Those plants are so old that trying to take them to their former glory feels like wasted effort
- Expanding capacity – we saw the addition of Unit 7 at Hwange which will be pumping 300MW onto the national grid by June. Unit 8 is expected later in the year and it too will produce 300MW.
- Reducing demand/ energy saving – the fitting of solar geysers to all new houses and some old ones and the promotion of energy-efficient appliances etc are all meant to reduce demand. We cannot underestimate this measure, Bangladesh was able to reduce demand by 51% this way.
- Licensing independent power producers (IPPs)– this is more like it. We can’t have all our electricity eggs in the ZESA/ZETDC basket. Fortunately, a number of IPPs have been licensed in the last few years. Most of these are installing solar plants.
The renewable future
Renewable energy (mostly solar) is going to be a major contributor in Zimbabwe’s future electricity generation efforts. The government says the goal is to have renewables contribute 1100MW or 16.5% of the overall electricity supply by 2025, whichever is higher.
By 2030, renewables should contribute 2200MW or 26.5% of overall supplies. That’s the target, at least.
Those are nice goals and all but where are we on meeting them? The government says we are on course to meet the 2025 target. That means, if we can bank on that claim, we should expect to get 1100MW from renewables in two years’ time.
A decade ago, our peak demand was pretty much where it is today, at around 2200MW in winter. I would imagine with Zimbabwe adopting energy-saving measures and more and more businesses and individuals not relying on the national grid, we may see that demand stay where it is. That is despite expected increased industry activity.
That would mean renewables would be able to meet 50% of demand in 2025 and 100% in 2030. That would be huge.
The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that Zimbabwe had 41 MW of installed PV (solar) capacity at the end of 2022. Going through the ZERA IPP list, it does appear they are agreed on that figure. So, to go from 41MW today to 1100MW in 2025 would be quite an achievement.
One wonders if it sounds too good to be true, this is an election year after all.
The government has addressed some of the issues that limited investment by independent power producers. Those would be the tariff and dividend/loan repayment issues.
The government released an implementation agreement through which they promise project development support and power purchases at viable rates.
This means the government will help make sure the projects go ahead as planned whilst also promising the IPPs that they will be able to charge competitive tariffs for their electricity.
In addition, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has guaranteed payments of dividends and foreign loan repayments to external investors and lenders.
That’s all on top of the tax and duty exemptions that have been granted on solar equipment imports.
These guarantees were made at the end of 2022.
The solar projects
The government hopes the incentives above will accelerate 998MW of privately owned solar energy projects worth about $1 billion.
The government implementation agreement we talked about above covers 27 solar power projects ranging from 5MW to 100MW of capacity. Cumulatively, they add up to 998MW.
You can keep track of which projects have been completed here. It is a list of all licensed IPPs and state-owned power projects.
The solar project we all know about is the 100MW Intratrek (Chivayo) one. Chivayo won that tender back in 2014 and we have not seen a single watt from him. Whilst he and the ZPC are busy suing each other, we yet could see these other projects succeed.
The projects include:
- 5 MW Wartrail Power Plant in Bulilimamangwe, Matabeleland South [by Plum Solar (Pvt) Ltd]
- 5 MW project in Hwange, Matabeleland North [by Solgas (Pvt) Ltd]
- 5 MW Sunset Technologies Solar Park in Gwanda, Matabeleland South [by Richaw Solar Tech (Pvt) Ltd]
- 5 MW Guruve Solar Park in Guruve District, Mashonaland Central [by Guruve Solar Park (Pvt) Ltd]
- 20 MW solar park in Seke, Mashonaland East [by Harava Solar Park]
- 25 MW Chidobe-Mizpah project in Hwange District, Matebeleland North [by Power Ventures (Private) Ltd]
Victoria Falls – Chidobe Solar project
The Chidobe project is interesting. Power Ventures got a license to establish a 100MW solar plant in Victoria Falls. The project is being implemented in four phases of 25MW each. They expect the first phase to cost US$31 million and to be completed by the end of 2023.
The first phase will take around 100 hectares. Reminder, a hectare is 100m x 100m. That means the whole project should take about 400 hectares. For context, Zimbabwe has about 40 million hectares in total.
Of that first phase of the Chidobe project, so far they have cleared 20 hectares which should be enough for a 5MW plant. They needed over 9000 solar panels for the 5MW plant. That plant is 90% complete and should connect to the grid by the end of May. The project manager had this to say, in February,
The first 5MW is almost complete and should connect to the grid in the next three months. We are 90 percent complete for the initial 5MW and forex permitting, we plan to complete the 25MW in the fourth quarter of 2023.
The whole project should have been completed in 2022 but the pandemic set them back. In fact, most of the projects listed above were supposed to have been completed by the end of 2021.
The Chinese 1000MW proposal
We talked about floating solar panels earlier this year and you can acquaint yourself with them here:
Less than two weeks after we discussed that China Energy submitted a proposal to ZPC to build a 1000MW floating solar panel farm at Kariba. So, they were looking at that idea.
China Energy says the civil engineering cost would be around US$186 million and installation would reach $801 million, for a total of $987 million. Not too bad for 1000MW.
This project is still in the proposal stage and we have no idea when (or if) it will commence. However, I would be surprised if it was rejected.
A brighter Zimbabwe?
I have more faith in these projects than in the government-led efforts in Kariba and Hwange. As long as the economics makes sense, these independent power producers will complete their projects.
The forex crisis may delay some of these projects as even Power Ventures admitted.
Let us grant that Zimbabwe’s energy demand will double by 2030. If we meet the 2200MW renewable energy target, that would still mean Zimbabwe would be able to meet half its demand with solar energy.
Remember Zimbabwe currently has 41MW of installed solar capacity. For context, in the region our neighbours have,
- Zambia – 96MW
- Botswana – 6MW
- Mozambique – 108MW
- South Africa – 5826MW
Make of that what you will.