Residents of Zimbabwe's capital have found a solution to a deepening electricity crisis.
More than 18 hours every day, there is no power which resumes only around 11.00 p.m. local time (2100GMT). But the majority of homes in a medium-density area called Homelink, in Westlea in Harare, are immune from the country’s electricity crisis, with solar panels installed on every rooftop, lighting homes in the midst of incessant power cuts.
About two months ago, Zimbabwe hiked power tariffs by more than 300% despite power cuts lasting more than 18 hours daily amid intensified power rationing, as the country contends with energy deficits.
But as Zimbabweans have taken the first steps to embrace solar energy, the government has been on record in the media saying it requires $3 billion in aid to meet its goals to expand off-grid solar power laid out in a plan drawn up as part of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Five months ago, Zimbabwe removed import duties on solar-energy-related products.
- Solar answer
Homelink is home to many like 46-year old Pritchard Mvundura, who is amongst hundreds of Zimbabweans, who by turning to solar, have evaded the power deficits.
“You can see for yourself that there is no electricity here, but my home including several others, are brightly lit. We have gone solar as the country goes dark,” Mvundura told Anadolu Agency.
Even indigenous businessmen like 53-year-old Mike Ngorima running a printing and photocopying firm in Harare, has no regrets he gave solar a chance.
“The solar system I installed is keeping my printing and photocopying machines running, meaning my business is up non-stop despite power cuts,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Top humanitarian organizations have also stepped in, raising the banner of renewable energy use.
Since last year, 405 health care facilities were fitted with solar systems countrywide, thanks to support from the United Nations Development Programme in conjunction with the Zimbabwean government and The Global Fund which also funded the project.
Solar energy is gaining tract as Zimbabwe struggles to import electricity from neighboring countries like South Africa and Mozambique.
‘Lighting in most of our homes has solely gone solar,” said Ngorima. “We mourn no more for state electricity.”
- Inadequate hydro power
Mozambique’s Hydro Cahora Bassa currently sells 50MW of hydroelectricity to Zimbabwe while South Africa also supplies it with 400MW of power, still inadequate to meet demand.
Zimbabwe requires 2000MW of electricity monthly to meet its monthly power obligations.
The Kariba dam, which has provided the country with the bulk of hydro power, has been over the past few years experiencing falling water levels, subsequently causing a drop in supply of hydroelectricity.
Hwange thermal power station, which has also over the years contributed to the power requirements, contends with obsolete equipment.
As these and more power woes mount on the country, Zimbabwe’s Energy Minister Fortune Chasi sees solar as the answer.
“The government backs the use of solar energy and sees its adoption as a viable, clean and lasting alternative to the challenges of insufficient power supply,” Chasi said.
- Solar projects slowed
But delays in carrying out solar energy projects have added to the country’s energy woes.
For instance, the 2016 solar power station being constructed by Intratrek, a company reportedly owned by Zimbabwean businessman Wicknell Chivhayo, contracted by the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC), is still a work in progress in Gwanda, in the country’s Matabeleland South Province.
Even so, with the poverty of electricity pounding this country, more people Sophia Mhizha, 48, have had to switch to solar to light their homes, not only in the city, but also in the countryside.
“I have installed solar at my home here in Harare and also at my rural home because even the rural electrification program that government bragged about over the years, is no longer reliable,” the widow told Anadolu Agency. “There is no electricity more often.”
- More solar users
More than 100 000 solar power systems are installed in homes across Zimbabwe, according to figures from the Ministry of Energy.
Mhizha and many others like Mvundura, who, amid the power cuts, have seen the light in solar.
As state power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) struggles to produce sufficient electricity to meet demand, power outages have derailed businesses in recent years, according to the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI).
- Climate change eats hydro power
Climate change experts have pinned the blame on dry weather conditions which has depleted water resources countrywide.
“You can’t have enough power without enough water in dams like Kariba which is surely a major source of electricity for the country. It has been hot over the years and we have seen water levels in Kariba falling because of the heat and this means a fall in power supplies,” Zisunko Ndlovhu, an independent climate change expert in Zimbabwe, told Anadolu Agency.
But, Ndlovhu also said “with increasing temperatures owing to climate change, many people have turned to the same sun, which is sucking away their water bodies, using the same sun to generate the energy they require.”
By Jeffrey Moyo in Harare, Zimbabwe