Zimbabwe: U.S.$8 Billion Required for Solar Fields

DUTCH development agency Hivos says Zimbabwe requires US$8 billion investment into solar fields if the country is to solve crippling power shortages that have seen most suburbs going for up to 18 hours daily without electricity.

Zimbabwe has since last year endured crippling power shortages as a result of depleted water levels at Kariba Dam, the country's major hydro-electric power plant as well as lack of investment in the energy sector.

Another major source of power, the Hwange Thermal Power Station, is constantly breaking down due to old age. Energy experts have, however, called upon the government to take advantage of the country's weather and adopt solar power as an alternative source of energy.

"Borrowing from other countries' experiences, an average of US$8 billion spread across different provinces can help in building these solar fields which can harvest the solar and ease energy needs," Hivos regional project manager for green and inclusive energy Mike Maketho told the Independent.

"It will also enable the country to export energy to other countries as well as supplying the industries that are being affected by the power crisis."

Maketho said there was need for massive investment in renewable energy like solar, adding that the country should emulate Morocco which invested US$9 billion into solar fields that is expected to grow power generation exponentially in the North African country.

"I think obviously investment in renewable energy, in particular looking at solar energy, requires a huge amount but it's very much feasible and because it has been a success in countries like Morocco.

"I think it's one option that Hivos and other partners are pushing for. Massive investment from the private sector and government is needed to build these solar fields and it's easier for Zimbabwe because solar is readily available," Makheto said.

Zimbabwe is currently pushing forward with plans to build four new solar power plants, amid a drought that has crippled its ability to generate hydro-electricity.

Controversial businessman Wicknell Chivhayo was in 2015 awarded a tender to construct a US$200 million 100-megawatt solar plant in Gwanda. He was paid US$5 million by the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) for pre-commencement works at the plant, but failed to do significant.

The solar project was expected to boost the country's power generation capacity, but has stalled.The low water levels at Kariba Dam have exacerbated the country's power crisis.

Maketho said government should create a conducive operating environment for independent power producers."First of all the operating environment for renewable energy actors in Zimbabwe needs to be addressed.

"Looking at the policy level, there is need for the government to look at creating an enabling environment for energy players."There is need for the government to allow the players into the sector. So it starts at policy level, the government creating enabling environment and inclusiveness," he said.

Maketho said although Finance minister Mthuli Ncube had committed to renewable energy investment in his 2020 budget, no concrete steps had been taken to attract investment into the sector.

"Definitely the political will is there but there is room for improvement and increased commitment. For example, the 2020 budget that was announced by the Minister of Finance talks about government's commitment to investment but all that commitment is just black and white with no figures to back up that commitment," Maketho said.

In a bid to improve uptake of renewable energy by communities, Hivos has also invested US$1,8 million into advocacy and promotion of a green environment.

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