Predictable renewable energy regulatory framework key for Zim

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Zimbabwe should develop a predictable and supportive regulatory framework backed by a stable investment environment to attract investors and funders for renewable energy and power projects.

The southern African nation is facing rolling power outages that have affected both domestic and industrial consumers. The country requires up to US$34 billion to upgrade its key infrastructure including energy.  

Zimbabwe recently shifted its focus on renewable energy after the country faced intensive load shedding mainly caused by a reduction in water allocation for power generation at Kariba Dam.

Kariba which is the country’s major power supplier reduced its output to just less than 500 megawatts from about 1050 megawatts due to dwindling water levels while aging machinery at the country’s four thermal power plants has also led to subdued power production, a situation which has government calling for increased investment in renewable energy.

However there is need for a new renewable energy framework that is transparent and that does not discriminate between foreign and domestic investors while also protecting intellectual property and contract rights.

The primary objective of any policy framework is to mobilise private investment that supports steady economic growth and sustainable development, contributing to the economic and social well-being of a country’s people.

Any renewable energy should look to integrate and combine domestic investment and climate change policies, that help catalyse investment in low-carbon, climate-resilient infrastructure across the board.

There is also need for strict supervision of renewable energy licences and subsequent contracts.

Government through Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) continues to licence private investors to operate as IPPs in Zimbabwe’s power sector.

Despite numerous challenges, Zimbabwe has attracted significant Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and continues to do so.

As of July 31, 2019, Zera issued more than 77 power generation Licences and 70 of these are Independent Power Producers while 42 alone are for solar power projects.

However recently, the Minister of Energy and Power Development Fortune Chasi, was quoted as saying that Zimbabwe is sitting on 38 non-operational solar projects with a total capacity of 1280 megawatts (MW) as government is now looking at revoking dormant power producer licences to curb speculative behaviour

 It is too easy to simply characterize holding licenses as “speculative”, as there may often be good reasons as to why rights granted by a license have yet to be acted on.

In general, however, you might look at a renewable energy license like an exploration mining license, if you do not take steps to exercise the rights granted under it within an stipulated time period then the licence is forfeited back to the State.

Wholesomely, according to a report on renewable energy policies in a time of transition, which was prepared jointly by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), key in any renewable energy policy should be that the policy should consider factors beyond the energy sector itself as they go beyond power generation. Such factors should include the need for further carbon or energy taxes and legal instruments that support climate change and sustainability best practices.  

Overall, there is more that needs to be done to come up with a proper renewable energy policy and what has just been stated above is not exhaustive. There is need for the Minister to coordinate with stakeholders and come up with a policy document that not only speaks to the present but also speaks to the past as well.