By Lungelo Ndhlovu
To help develop Zimbabwe’s socio-economic development, foreign missions in the country have stepped up efforts to initiate and fund renewable energy projects as an alternative to fossil fuels which are harmful to the environment and people.
Recently, the United States Embassy in Zimbabwe funded a solar-powered project at Esigodini District Hospital, in Matabeleland South province. The solar back-up system was funded under the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) under support for HIV services through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) implementing partner, Organisation for Public Health Interventions and Development (OPHID).
This is a Zimbabwean organisation that develops and implements innovative approaches and strategies to strengthen the provision of quality HIV prevention, care, and treatment services.
The district hospital runs an Electronic Health Records (HER) system which stores patients’ data electronically, an important tool in the fight against HIV and AIDS as it is complemented by Care Based Surveillance and Recent Infections Surveillance for the whole district.
“One of the things that we have seen here is a solar back-up system. All the information from other health sites comes here, so Esigodini District Hospital has to maintain power 24 hours.
“Obviously, that is difficult in Zimbabwe today (noting the electricity load shedding). So through our partners, we were able to fund the solar panel system which provides back-up for that system,” said US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, Thomas Hastings, during a media tour of the solar–backed system at Esigodini District Hospital.
Solar-powered weight scale used for patients at Esigodini District Hospital in Umzingwane district, Matabeleland South Province. Picture by Lungelo Ndhlovu.
In 2019, the US government contributed $163 million to the HIV and AIDS efforts in Zimbabwe generally.
The Zimbabwe government is fast-moving away from using fossil fuels and hopes larger solar renewable energy projects will ease the country’s long-standing power-shortages. However, accessing international funding for such projects is a major challenge.
Since coming into power in 2018, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s mantra has been ‘Zimbabwe is Open for Business’, to attract the much-needed investments into the country, including renewable energy projects.
But, the renewable energy sector has not attracted much funding due to certain bottlenecks such as prohibitive fee structures when one wants to set-up business in the country, corruption, policy inconsistency, bureaucracy and liquidity challenges in the banking sector.
Recently, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) revealed that some unscrupulous locals are misleading (especially foreign) potential investors, by misrepresenting themselves as middlemen who could fast track licensing processes on their behalf.
In a statement, ZERA said: “These people misrepresent themselves as middlemen who can ‘organise meetings and follow up on progress’ in the licencing process at a fee payable by unsuspecting investors.”
The energy regulator advised investors and the public not to work through third parties such as middlemen, facilitators or agents outside the country.
The European Union (EU) Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, told Reuters Foundation, renewable energy was important for households, especially for the country’s economic growth but was quick to point out that there were bottlenecks when it came to investments into the sector.
He said Zimbabwe was not eligible for renewable energy projects funding due to its reputation of failing to service debts.
“Zimbabwe is excluded from the External Investment Plan loans to fund renewable energy projects, but that is not due to sanctions as perceived by some people. The country has debts that it must service,” he said.
However, Olkkonen noted Zimbabwe could try and access funding from private loan investments despite ‘some bottlenecks.’
“Renewable energies should be a way to go in Zimbabwe, and solar should be an all-brainer but I’m aware of some hindrances for use in industrial purposes that need a stable mode all the time, so it is not a panacea for everything but clearly it should be a huge part of the answer. It’s good for small-scale usage for households taking off the grid from a larger- scale,” he said.
The country is aware of the importance of investing in renewable energy technologies to augment power supply. In his recent 2020 Plan announcement, Finance and Economic Development Minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube, said the government would be offering incentives to those who invested in solar as a means to promote renewable energy use.
In 2018, the government said there were more than 100,000 solar power systems installed in homes across the country, as people resorted to alternative means of electrifying their homes.
Minister of Energy and Power Development, Fortune Chasi, has also warned the country’s 30 Independent Power Producers (IPPs) risked losing their licences for failing to execute their renewable energy projects.
He said the move would open up the renewable energy space to serious players and investors that could contribute to power generation projects with the expectation of helping the country meet its immediate power supply needs plus feeding surplus energy into the national grid.
According to experts, energy lies at the core of the key global challenges of the 21st Century making it imperative to address global energy needs in a sustainable manner as opposed to using fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms and are used for energy generation mainly through combustion.
Scientists say burning fossil fuels releases carbon into the atmosphere which depletes the ozone layer. This, in turn, leads to global warming. Fossil fuels provide most of the energy that supports human transportation, electricity production, heating and cooling of buildings, and industrial activity, but are the major causes of climate change.
The usage of coal is increasing daily, thereby also increasing the amount of carbon dioxide being released to the environment, potentially contributing to climate change. In the 1990s, human fossil fuel use emitted 6.4 Petagrams of carbon (PgC) per year, and from 2000-2008, 7.7 PgC/yr. Between 2000-2008, emissions increased by 3.4% per year, substantially faster than the growth rate of 1.0% per year in the 1990s.