Zim should overhaul energy policy

A glimmer of hope on the country’s energy crisis came this week after government appeared to have intensified its efforts to improve this situation.

On the sidelines of last week’s African Union meeting President Emmerson Mnangagwa met his South and Mozambique counterparts on how the neighbouring countries can ease the power outages that are lasting up to 17 hours a day.

Zimbabwe’s is facing severe electricity cuts due to several factors which include unsustainably low energy tariffs, failure to pay debts owed to two regional power utilities, limited investment in the energy sector, corruption and a ballooning domestic debt.

Saddled with a huge external debt, Zimbabwe will find it difficult to attract major investments in the capital intensive sector.

Most of the country’s power stations have antiquated equipment and should be mothballed. The running costs of these power stations has among other reasons the cost of power generation higher compared to regional peers.

Official figures show that Zimbabwe requires 2300 megawatts (MW) of electricity against current generation levels of less than 1000MW. To meet this deficit government can only rely on imports from regional power utilities which require at least US$14 million a month. This means that Zimbabwe requires nearly US$170 million each year in electricity imports to meet demand. For a country that is a net importer, this figure presents scope to consider investing in cheaper and efficient sources of energy.

It is commendable that over the years, government has crafted a number of laws that affect renewable energy development, some lying within the jurisdiction of the parent Ministry (MEPD) and others in other ministries.

But the take up has not been satisfactory due to several challenges confronting potential investors. Some of these problems have been caused by failure of the existing laws to speak to each other while others are caused by corruption which has become endemic.

One of the challenges being faced by would-be investors in renewable energy development is that these laws need to talk to each other and that there is no conflict.

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, government should consider reviewing duty on generators and other sources of energy to ensure the viability of business.

Zimbabwe has a huge and diverse renewable energy resource base of solar radiation, especially, mini-hydro and biomass, municipal solid waste, agricultural and forestry wastes.

Zimbabwe has large tracts of land available for solar plants and other developments. Projects such as the Gwanda 100MW solar projects which has been moving at a slow pace are but glaring examples of structural weaknesses in implementing projects.

The country could be losing electricity on the main grid due to vandalism and antiquated equipment and this presents an opportunity in the energy sector partner government through either Public-Private Partnerships or Build Operate Transfer arrangements. But before that can be done, the regulatory framework in the country’s energy sector needs to be reviewed to make it more attractive to both domestic and foreign investors.

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