By Bernard Mpofu
State-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamonds Company (ZCDC) says it is considering adopting a hybrid power supply model to ease the rolling power outages that affected the mine’s output in the past, officials at the mine told GreenEnergy Zimbabwe.
The southern African nation is experiencing intermittent power cuts that have resulted in overheads skyrocketing. Now, mining firms such as ZCDC which was formed following the merger of diamond firms operating in Chiadzwa in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland Province, are now looking at alternative sources of energy to mitigate the perennial power crisis.
Zimbabwe is currently generating less than half of its energy requirements and now relies on imports from the region to reduce the deficit.
ZCDC acting chief operating officer, Owen Chihota, said power cuts and foreign currency shortages were affecting the company’s operations adding that 70 percent of the gem miner’s costs required hard currency.
“We have plans to put some solar plant of 5MVA (Mega Volt Amp) which will be able to run all our plants and possibly supply the nearest communities and schools. The plans are there and we are working on the feasibility study. We have actually advertised for a consultant to work with us as per our local governance standards,” Chihota said.
The company’s mine manager, Innocent Guvakuva, however, said while solar could help in reducing the energy needs, the renewable energy requires huge capital outlay.
“I think we need to demystify something. Even if you look at South Africa, not so many mines are running on solar. Why? Initial capital is too much and solar across its lifetime you find that it is more expensive per kilowatt hour. For example, we are buying our electricity at USD9.86 cents per kilowatt/hour (kWh), you find out that for solar that could be USD14 cents per kWh,” Guvakuva said.
“That’s why you find out that at big mines like Zimplats you would have expected them to have a solar farm but it has to be hybrid between the national grid and solar.
“For domestic consumers, solar would be ideal because it is economic but for full production, you really need to get to the optimal point.”
According to a study carried out by the Zimbabwe Environment Law Association, Zimbabwe’s Renewable Energy Technology (RET) industry has showed enormous potential but growth continues to be stifled by both internal and external factors.
A few years back, Zimbabwe was assembling solar photovoltaic panels from imported cells and making solar water heaters to Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ) standards before the country was flooded with cheaper imported substitutes.
As power cuts continue to disrupt business, costing many to use diesel-powered generators, the government should consider reviewing duty on generators and other sources of energy to ensure the viability of business.
To offset the energy deficit, local mining companies are now paying their electricity bills in hard currency as a way of guaranteeing energy supplies after government promised to ring fence the key economic fundamentals. Mining has since overtaken agriculture as the backbone of the economy, contributing more than 50 percent of total export earnings.
Energy supplies under this current arrangement, Guvakuva said are not enough to meet the demands of the mining company.
“Mines chew a lot of electricity. I’m sure at peak we need about 5MW (megawatts) which is a lot. We try to run with what we have, we have got big generators to enhance or at least to work with. It’s expensive to run a generator full time because diesel is expensive,” Guvakuva said.
“Generators chew a lot of fuel. On average we need up to 4,000 litres a day of diesel to run this mine (and) that is costly. It is more expensive for us to import fuel directly due to duties and other levies but if we had national project status that would have been cheaper.”
Commenting on production downtime resulting from the rolling power outages that paralysed the economy Guvakuva said: “We lost a lot. Probably in terms of total material mined, we are looking at about 8 million tonnes that we could have moved last year.”
In 2017, government gave a private company the greenlight to import 12 million litres of fuel duty-free. During the same year government also granted national projects status to the Dema Emergency Power Plant which runs on diesel.
African Chrome fields, a joint venture between the Moti family of South Africa and local investors was also granted a waiver to import fuel duty free as well as enjoy an exemption from paying tax.