By Polite Ndlovu
The Government, through the Rural Electrification Programme and in accordance with the Rural Electrification Act of 2002 is determined to provide electricity to all in Zimbabwe.
The Act was put in place to spearhead rapid and equitable electrification of rural areas in Zimbabwe. If this goes well, rural life will be transformed and living standards will improve particularly for women who do most of the household chores and bear the brunt of energy related issues.
However, this noble desire to electrify the nation comes at a time when the country is facing macro economic problems that have also impacted on power supply issues in the country. This calls for new frontiers to be explored in the energy sector.
Citizens of Zimbabwe have challenges in getting adequate electricity even in urban areas. According to the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC), the country’s national grid is supplying about 1 300 MW. Kariba, the major hydro power station produces about 750 MW of renewable energy.
Other stations are using coal and this is not in line with the agenda of migrating to renewable energy sources. Hwange produces about 920 MW. Bulawayo, Harare and Munyati power stations produce about 270 MW combined.
This is not enough for a country that needs about 2 200 MW at its peak. According to the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, a suppressed peak demands about 1 400MW while on average internal power generation is 1 200MW.
For instance, if the national demand is 2 200 MW and the country is only producing 1 300 MW, there is a deficit of about 900 MW. This means that a lot needs to be done to improve power supply. The national project of rural electrification will put further strain on the national grid.
Currently in urban areas, power supply reaches about 79% of households. In rural areas only 40% have accesses to the national grid. Of the 40%, not all can afford the electricity connection costs.
In some areas, the criteria used also leaves a lot to be desired. According to a report by the ministry, anyone within 10 km of the national grid was deemed as having access. However, one can be still be within 10 km, but still fail to access power.
The National Energy Act of 2012 promotes increased uptake of renewable energy sources in the country. With this in mind, the government should seriously champion the adoption of renewable energy as laid out in the Act. Instead of continuing to put strain on the national grid, the country can build sub-power stations in rural areas. Zimbabwe can take the advantage of the availability of vast lands to establish renewable energy power plants.
There are a number of alternatives the government could explore. The government could reap huge rewards for many years to come despite the huge capital injections that are required.
The most common and most abundant source of energy that has proved to be effective in other countries such as Algeria, is solar energy. Being near the equator, the sun is almost always overhead in Zimbabwe and we have it throughout the year. This makes this project feasible.
The government can have solar farms situated in rural areas and supply electricity in those areas. This can also be cost cutting measure since there will be no need to have pylons and poles cutting across hundreds of kilometres to reach rural areas. Connection will be just done there.
In addition, it reduces theft and people will not vandalise transformers and other properties as has been bemoaned by ZESA officials since infrastructure will not have to be placed in the middle of nowhere. The sub-grid will be placed in the area and connections will be done from there into the community. In the community, ZESA property would most likely be safe since communities can quickly report any mischievous acts they may notice.
Other innovations could be through the use of windmills to generate electricity. All the country has to do is erect windmill generators and let the wind do the job without any pollution. Government can also build dams inland and not only rely on Kariba.
This year the country had very high rainfall, but the water will just flow into rivers such as the Zambezi and into the oceans.
If this is well implemented there will be improvements in the health and education sectors. Businesses will also thrive. It will reduce in-house pollution which comes as a result of using firewood and other materials for fire. It is also in line with the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals 7 and 13 which state that there should be affordable and clean energy and climate action respectively.
It ramparts other goals like quality education, no poverty, zero hunger and good health and wellbeing in the country.
It is also in line with the Paris Agreement of 2015 where it was agreed climate change presents urgent and potential irreversible threat to human societies and the planet. This requires widest possible co-operation by all countries recognising that reduction in global emissions will be required to achieve the ultimate goal of curbing climate change. By adhering to this Zimbabwe will be playing a very vital role in promoting a green future for now and generations to come.