Panafrican News Agency

Solar firms in Zimbabwe cash in on power blackouts (A PANA News Analysis)

Harare, Zimbabwe (PANA) - Solar firms in Zimbabwe are cashing in on the 18 hour daily power cuts by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) to preserve power.

With talk of shutting down Zimbabwe’s main source of electricity, the Kariba South Hydropower Station, next month, consumers are increasingly turning to solar energy.

Shutting down the station, which accounts for 37 percent of power generation in Zimbabwe, is due to falling water levels from the Kariba dam, as a result of adverse climatic conditions.

Further, with the recent rise in the electricity tariff for domestic consumers from an average of ZWL9.86 cents/kWh to an average of ZWL27 cents/kWh (approximately US 3cents/kWh), solar energy in the long term, may be a cheaper option for consumers.

“There is an increase on the market and all these people (solar firms) are trying to provide solutions to customers,” Renewable Energy Association of Zimbabwe chairperson Isaiah Nyakusendwa told PANA in a phone interview.

On why the trend was happening now, he said: “The difference comes in that we have never had these prolonged power cuts and obviously that points to a deficit in the energy supply and we have been relying more on the imports to plug the deficit.”

Zimbabwe’s power deficit is currently pegged at 900 megawatts (MW) against a demand of 1,858MW and an installed capacity of 2,260MW.

“So, effectively, if you are load shedding then naturally you have to look for a solution. Also equally as well, I think everybody now is starting to realise renewable energy, particularly, solar, can provide a solution from our natural sun which is also available in the country,” Nyakusendwa said.

Among the solar companies looking at utilising the opportunity left by the power deficits are Unique Solar Systems and The Solar Shop.

Unique Solar systems is a solar company that has been operating for the past seven years. It is in the business of supplying, installing, maintaining and repairing generators, inverters, uninterruptible power supply, batteries, solar panels and regulators.

“Yes, there is demand in solar products. We offer domestic and industrial solar systems installations. Before the power cuts we would do four installations per week but now we do about 16 installations per week,” Unique Solar systems business development director, Mbusi Zikhali said.

“The greatest challenge for now is the unavailability of stock and because of that we are failing to meet the demand.”

Challenges around securing foreign exchange to import still persist.

In terms of sales, Zikhali said they were now earning about half a million Zimbabwe dollars (nearly US$50,000) per month but declined to say how much of a boost the solar demand was having.

For The Solar Shop, this company has been operating since 2012. The company is also into providing solar products and solutions.

According to The Solar Shop’s projects and sales manager, Tamuka Gutsire, they had also seen a notable increase in solar demand.

“There has been a significant increase in demand ever since the initial phase of load shedding. We can say about a 500% demand. We are now actually subtracting some of our jobs and increased our manpower,” Gutsire said.

For them, Gutsire said, demand has mostly been on solar batteries and inverters.

“Most people just want backup systems and when (power) comes they can charge the battery,” he added.

In terms of revenue, Gutsire declined to say only that it was matching demand.

“In terms of projects (installations) we are averaging about five per week. Before the power cuts, we were averaging around one or two per week,” he said.

A major reason why these companies are making revenue is due to government lifting duty for solar equipment which has significantly brought down costs.

However, despite this, solar companies continue to charge prices at either the official foreign exchange rates currently pegged at US$1:ZWL$10.12 or strictly in US dollars as most of the products are imported.

These prices come at a time when disposable incomes continue to shrink on the back of a devaluing dollar that is eroding monthly incomes.

The trend of high pricing is in sharp contrast to what used to happen in the past where prices for solar products were generally cheaper and more affordable when electricity was available.

“Solar is now the main ‘in thing’ because everybody now believes there is money to be made there. We have had reports that some people are actually charging a lot more which is a pity because it is like shooting yourself in the foot,” Nyakusendwa said.

“What will happen is people will then go out and buy all these components from outside and then bring them in as opposed to operators in the country so it is something we have been having discussions with the authorities to see how best we can also come up with an industry wide approach to such issues.”

In terms of solar companies interested in large scale solar generation, according to the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA), there are currently 49 registered solar companies in the country all of whom are vying for a piece of the market.

“We have had quite a number of enquiries and approved a lot of projects to do solar,” ZERA chief executive officer Eddington Mazambani said.

In view of the power crisis, last Tuesday, government approved the long idle Renewable Energy Policy of 2017 in hopes of providing alternative power sources.

PANA understands that the Energy and Power Development ministry is currently fine tuning the policy before it is officially adopted soon.

According to the policy document, there is a potential to generate 1,872MW from renewable energy in Zimbabwe, of which, 600MW is from solar.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has finally reached a deal to import power from South Africa's power utility, Eskom, which will see electricity imports on a weekly basis. The deal involves bringing in an additional 400MW of electricity into the national power grid.

-0- PANA TZ/MA 11Aug2019