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Climate change behind Zim's power problems – Energy Minister

Sep 07 2019 07:00
Lameez Omarjee, Fin24

"We are victims of climate change." That's how Zimbabwe's Energy Minister, Fortune Chasi, has explained the country's power challenges.

The minister was speaking at a WEF panel on universal energy access at the World Economic Forum on Thursday. The forum, held over three days in Cape Town, saw business leaders and government officials gathering to hold economy-related discussions, one of them being energy access.

Zimbabwe started implementing load shedding from mid-May as water levels at Kariba Dam, a hydropower plant, are reducing. Kariba Dam runs along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has approached Eskom to increase electricity imports. Bloomberg reported in July that a consortium led by General Electric and Power Construction Corporation of China was awarded a contract to build the Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme, at 2400MW power station, to service both countries.

"We are victims of climate change. Kariba Dam is the main source [of power] … The water is just above 20% [of capacity]," Chasi said during the panel discussion. Additional challenges are related to the "antiquated" thermal equipment at the existing plant, Chasi said. The power shortages are negatively impacting the economy, he added.

The country has been reliant on hydropower, and as it develops an integrated resources plan, alternative energy sources such as renewables, wind, oil and gas are being considered. As per the plan, Zimbabwe wants to secure a minimum of 11 500 MW of energy by 2030. Chasi said Zimbabwe has plans to be a net exporter of power to the rest of the region facing power challenges.

"We see it as a business opportunity for Zimbabwe. We are looking to transform the challenge we are faced with into an opportunity for investment," he said.

Alternative energy

Zimbabwe is deliberately increasing the renewables portion of energy. "We are a victim of climate change so we are moving in the area of renewables deliberately to get sufficient power.

"We need to make sure we go green and play as little a role as possible in worsening climate change," he said.

Zimbabwe is considering a mixture of on-grid and off-grid power. Off-grid power is not reliant on energy from a power utility.

"The off-grid model is useful for us," he said. For example, farming communities can use it to have sufficient power, which is necessary to ensure food security, he said.

Zimbabwe is faced with financing challenges too, as part of attracting investment it has incentives for companies, Chasi explained. "We see a growing role for the private sector," he said. So far there appears to be a willingness by both the public and private sector to work together, he added.

Microgrids to decentralise energy

In an interview with Fin24 on the sidelines of WEF, Siemens CEO Sabine Dall'Omo also shared a few insights on alternative energy sources, particularly decentralising energy with microgrids.

She mentioned an example of how a microgrid was used to power a farm in Ethiopia. In that way, the community can be empowered by not relying on a "handout" from government.

Microgrids not only take the strain off the central grid, they also help lower the carbon footprint. There is also potential for economic opportunities that can be created, as people can sell off the excess energy produced, Dall'Omo put forward.

"By diversifying energy through microgrid technology, we can very quickly create new income streams in disadvantaged areas while at the same time growing and stabilising access to energy.

"This, in turn, will kickstart real democratisation of energy," Dall'Omo wrote in a separate opinion piece on microgrids.

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