Zimbabwe continues to experience torrid times as power outages continue to rage on. Incessant load shedding rules and the situation probably might get worse as there isn’t yet a solution at hand. Ironically the country is endowed with several alternative energy sources that can be leveraged on to proffer long-lasting solutions to the power situation. One of the most available alternative energy sources is solar power. That’s a route worth pursuing because Zimbabwean days are on average characterised by sunny weather. It even seems the local climate has actually been and still is gradually getting hotter. Zimbabwe has the capacity to generate as much as 10 000 GW hours of solar power in a year.

Solar Use Incentive Coming Says Energy minister, Advocate Fortune Chasi

Local energy minister Advocate Fortune Chasi recently hinted on an incentive that’s being worked on by the government. The aim of the incentive will be to encourage and foster interest and investment activity in the solar power domain. This comes from a realization that as a nation we must migrate from sole dependence on just two main local options. Power generation in Zimbabwe has mainly been the mainstay of Kariba and Hwange. The former is currently limping due to declining water levels due to inadequate rainfall during the previous rainy season. The latter is riddled with problems from plant ageing, backlogs in repairs and maintenance work – mainly blamed on forex shortages.

Incentive To Be Announced Soon

The focus on solar stems from how ubiquitous it is since on average Zimbabwe enjoys at least 300 days annually of predominantly clear skies and sunny weather. The minister did acknowledge that locally no solar panel manufacturing is done – I believe that’s one investment opportunity. However, he alluded to that because the fact that we must import solar panels has a bearing on the incentive being devised. Advocate Fortune Chasi indicated that the incentive is still being worked out and as soon as everything is clear formal communication about it shall be done. It seems the government is now at a place where considering solar power is an option requiring the utmost attention.


Duty-Free Passage

I remember sometime in 2013 when ZIMRA indicated through its Facebook page that solar panels, lamps and inverters don’t pay duty. They rather highlighted that those items only attract a 15% value-added tax (VAT). The funny thing though is that the batteries and other accessories do attract duty. I really feel this is one way of incentivising solar use i.e. having a customs framework that allows duty-free passage for all solar products. Still, on that importation side, I also feel that the valuation and clearance system is somewhat too complex. It needs to be watered down and be easy for people to both know and understand so that people don’t get charged for duty for things that otherwise should be duty-free.

Solar Farms

There’s an issue of having solar farms which must be given top priority. There must be an appreciation that most people are struggling financially so buying solar products might actually be a tall order for them. Bear in mind that most people own electrical appliances that they purchased after a struggle. So making electricity more available will be a relatively much easier option for the majority of Zimbabweans. One way to increase power availability is through building solar farms. Recently from the energy minister’s tweets, you can tell that he’s seriously thinking of approving tariff hikes. Though there’s some sense (which is debatable anyway) in that current electricity tariffs are far removed from the actual costs of making it available hiking tariffs isn’t the solution. I know of a ZPC (Zimbabwe Power Company) solar project that hasn’t started. It’s a 570 million USD project to be done in Gwanda, Insukamini and Munyati with a combined capacity of 300 MW. The major issue stopping its progress is funding otherwise all prior processes for commencement were done. Imagine if we had 5 or more solar projects at such scales nationwide we wouldn’t have power challenges. That’s why I recommend that solar farms must be seriously looked into more than anything else.

Debt Recovery

ZESA is owed huge amounts of money i.e. around USD1.2 billion. It has been said that government departments and local authorities are responsible for over USD300 million of that debt. So it’s important that the energy minister invest more focus on recovering those monies owed since they will go a long way in improving ZESA’s operations. Recently the energy minister said those with arrears should be warned (no matter who they are) that they risk being cut off from the grid if they don’t pay up.

So these are some of the key performance areas that must be looked into. We shall know more concerning the path the energy ministry is assuming when they officially announce the solar use incentive they are working on. Truth be told, the power situation in Zimbabwe’s lies in governance-related issues more than anything else.