By Nesia Mhaka
Zimbabwe’s ambitious drive to promote clean energy and reduce energy poverty by 2030 especially in rural areas through the power of sunshine is still facing numerous barriers.
The country implemented strong policy frameworks for sustainable energy early this year with the objective of improving renewable energy regulations and opening up the energy sector to independent power producers.
Zimbabwe enjoys more than 3,000 hours of sunlight annually and has the potential to produce 10, 000GWh of electrical energy per year if solar energy is fully harnessed.
Despite all this capacity and increasing energy demand, the uptake of renewable energy in Zimbabwe’s rural areas remains low, according to local energy experts.
Green and Inclusive Energy renewable energy specialist, Engineer Hilton Chingosho, said the country needs to increase its attention to off-grid solutions to close the energy gap in rural areas.
“ZESA (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority), the country’s national power utility, must move with speed to develop a fully-fledged renewable energy division that should promote the manufacturing and distribution of renewable energy products, particularly for rural areas.
“Other countries have even created renewable energy authority agencies to spur the adoption of renewable energy in their own countries. In Zimbabwe, the lack of accredited technicians was holding back solar penetration,” said Engineer Chingosho.
He said the government should increase awareness programmes on renewable energy in rural areas to enhance its visibility and ultimately, uptake.
“Without massive campaigns to promote the uptake of renewable energy in rural areas, Zimbabwe will not realise its targets on renewable energy, energy efficiency, electricity access, and access to clean cooking in line with Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), which advocates for achieving access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030.”
Engineer Chingosho attributed the low adoption of renewable energy to poverty, lack of public awareness, poor access to financial credit, cost, general lack of public financial support and inadequate technical support to the households that choose to go solar.
“Renewable energy technologies are known to have very long payback periods, hence cannot be financed through short to medium- term finance loans.
“Government should motivate for long term financing from local and international partners, provide guarantees and conducive macro-economic environment. It should also consider accessing funds from insurance companies and also external investors – through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) at concessionary interest rates,” said Chingosho.
Wellington Madumira, another renewable energy expert with ZERO – an environmental organisation working in the energy sector, said the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA), should monitor the quality of solar components being imported into the country to protect consumers from poor and inefficient products.
Madumira said ZERA should promote renewable energy awareness campaigns in rural areas to speed the uptake of the initiative.
“Adoption of renewable energy standards is quite important. We applaud the government for coming up with sound renewable energy policies, but we still need incentives and the aggressive promotion of renewable energy to raise awareness among the people, especially those in rural areas.”
For the country to effectively increase renewable energy uptake in rural areas there is a need to address the inadequate transmission and distribution infrastructure, he added
“ZESA should be strengthened to upgrade the national grid to be a smart grid so as to be able to take generated power from public and privately-owned power plants.
“Limited information on renewable energy incentives like electricity trading, electricity banking, net metering for third party access and remote electrification- the regulatory authority needs to do awareness campaigns and post more updated information on their websites,” said Madumira.
Climate change expert, Lawrence Mashungu, said renewable energy is the way to go for the nation to achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. He added that Zimbabwe has launched its National Biofuels Policy and National Renewable Energy Policy as it aims to reduce carbon emissions by 33% by 2030 and meet its projected electricity demand of 11, 500MW by 2030.
“Renewable energy can help us to meet the growing energy demand in the country and to meet our needs as a nation.
“Energy is at the centre of development, it is at the centre of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and we have to adopt a number of strategies to increase the uptake of clean energy by 2030.
“If there is access to energy in rural homes and rural clinics, for example, we can enhance the survival of mothers giving birth. Energy is cross-cutting and can help us meet a number of our development goals on health, education, among others,” he said.