What is derailing renewable sector growth in Zimbabwe?

By Watmore Makokoba

Zimbabwe has ample potential for electricity generation from hydro, solar, biomass and wind, nevertheless, but only a fraction of the country’s renewable energy potential has been exploited so far.

According to the Zimbabwe Environmental Regional Organisation (ZERO), Project Manager Wellington Madumira there are four main challenges to the uptake of renewable energy in Zimbabwe and Africa at large.

The country has been experiencing a gradual shift towards exploring renewable energy resources as a driving force for rural development, however, much more needs to be done in creating an enabling environment, facilitate access to finance as well as ensuring affordability, awareness raising and improving access to technical support services.

“There is need for an operating environment that supports the growth of the renewable energy penetration in Zimbabwe. The enabling environment is mostly a function of the national government and regulatory bodies, national policies are an effective way to gauge the viability of a business model from one country to another”, said Madumira.

Madumira called for the introduction of duty exemptions on other accessories. Currently, only solar panels are duty free while other solar products such as batteries and cables pay duty.

The country’s Renewable Energy Policy recognises the impediments retarding the growth of this sector.

Solar and biomass resources also remain largely untapped, 50 MW of geothermal potential were identified in 1985, but little has been done since to further catalogue the resource. It is reasonable to assume from the country’s geographic location near to the geologically-active Rift Valley indicates that geothermal power may be a viable generation option.

Madumira noted that , “The gross theoretical hydropower potential is 18,500 GWh/year. The technically feasible potential is 17,500 GWh/year, of which (only) 19% has been exploited. The average solar irradiation for instance, is 5.7 kWh/m2/day with the north and west regions of the country having the highest irradiation potential. Solar PV has a technical potential of over 300 MW which is yet to be met.”

“The timber industry also has strong biomass potential, generating over 70,000 tonnes of waste for biomass annually. Long-term projections anticipate this figure to double, Co-generation potential (bagasse) currently provides 633 GWh of electricity, an estimated 4 MW of additional energy could be created through enhancing equipment at these facilities”

At the larger mills especially in the Eastern Border Highlands of Zimbabwe, where production is high, approximately 10% of the wood waste is consumed in process steam boilers for lumber drying kilns. The vast majority of the industry’s waste is burned outdoors or discarded.

One outstanding feature in these areas are mountains of saw dust which are regularly poured with hundreds of gallons of water to avoid fires, which on its own is another unnecessary wastage of the pressures resource, water.

The Ministry of Energy says clean energy generation is projected to increase by 26, 6 percent to 4 640 gigawatts hour (GWh) in 2030, from the current capacity of 850 GWh.

This is in the backdrop of a projected power supply deficit of 1 000 megawatts (MW) in 2025, which would rise to 1 600 MW in 2030.

The most significant challenge to the penetration of renewable energy in Zimbabwe is access to finance to pay for renewable energy technologies.

The effects of limited financing options are felt on all levels of the distribution value chain from the manufacturer through to the importers, distributors, dealers and finally the end user.

Consumer education is one of the top three challenges facing the penetration of renewable energy in rural areas of Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa.

There is a great need to raise the awareness levels of the target market of the energy generation options available and their benefits, as well as the hazards involved with using the more dangerous dirty fuels to light their homes.

The shortage of entrepreneurial skills and entrepreneurial capacity in the energy sector has limited the marketing of renewable energy products.

Without conducive policies and legal frameworks it has also proved in other countries even outside Africa, unfruitful.  In Europe and the US for instance, several solar energy projects were successful due to subsidies and tax breaks as well as other supportive policies in the early stages of development.

Green credit lines, tax exemptions and the introduction of concepts such as Feed-In Tariffs and net metering, training of technicians throughout the geography of Zimbabwe and school campaigns can help mainstream renewable energy penetration and make Africa the next big destination for the growing renewable energy industries of China, America and Europe.

In order to develop solutions to counter the ‘African Energy Challenge’, innovative approaches towards increasing the penetration of alternative sources of energy should be implemented at all levels of the value chain.

Post Author: MISA Zimbabwe

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