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Energy sector under the spotlight

Zimbabwe has ratified the Paris Agreement and is bound by its provisions adopted by over 150 world leaders in 2015 at the Conference of the Parties. (COP) 21

By Kennedy Nyavaya

The ratification of the treaty done on September 6, means Zimbabwe is expected to start implementing its promises towards achievement of the global deal aimed at ensuring that all world citizens reduce the amount of toxic gas emissions into the atmosphere.

As a COP signatory, the country is also focusing on the reduction of its emissions through substantive nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Most of the country’s emissions come from the energy production sector, hence the Environment, Water and Climate ministry has “the greatest scope in terms of reducing emissions is the area related to energy”, according to the ministry’s climate change scientist Tirivanhu Muhwati.

“We are working with those who generate energy in the sector and the business council for sustainable development and also individual companies that we know that pollute more than others,” Muhwati told journalists attending a climate change workshop in Harare recently.

For a country emitting a minute 0,05% of the world’s total emissions, government has set an attainable target of reducing 33% per capita (per person) in terms of the pollutions coming from the energy production and usage by year 2030.

This, according to Muhwati, is not only achievable through completely shifting to green energy (solar, hydro, biogas etc), but also smarter ways of coal extraction for thermal power currently covering a large chunk of the country’s electricity grid.

“Solar energy needs a back-up energy source for the grid to be stable,” he said, explaining how use of fossil fuel is catered for under the “common, but differentiated responsibilities” clause engraved in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“At our level, we still need coal and our circumstances are that we have some of the best coal in terms of power-generation and some of the biggest coal deposits that at our current rate of use are expected to last 150 years.

“With such a resource, our circumstances dictate that we should use it.”

As the earth continues to become dense due to global warming, reduction of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides going into the atmosphere causing damage to the ozone layer has become less of an option, but a mandate.

The Paris deal appears a mere gentleman’s handshake not binding legally, but in the future, errant countries could be sanctioned for producing non-environmentally-friendly products.

Locally, the government has established a climate policy which could help promote environmentally-friendly activities.
However, red tape is still a major setback with examples of statutory instruments like the one on solar water geysers, which up to today is in the attorney general’s office, taking long to come into effect.

The media seminar, which was organised by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists in conjunction with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, was meant to equip media personnel on “popularising the climate change debate through the media.”

Meanwhile, there is a visible insurgence of corporates targeting solar energy in what could spell a quick “greening” of the jobs market in the country.

An increase in tenders pertaining to solar energy considered to be the most convenient alternative source of energy for the country comes at a time the power utility Zesa is failing to meet power demand.

The immediate economic benefits of going solar are in areas such as import substitution (foreign currency savings), job creation and energy security.

“The solar industry will be a major driver of job growth in Zimbabwe,” said Distributed Power Africa (DPA) development executive Remeredzai Kuhudzai.

DPA is part of Econet Group Company with a dedicated power focus aiming to provide renewable energy solutions “that improve the energy reliability and reduce the overall costs of energy for consumers across Africa.”

The company, which recently started operations in Zimbabwe, is part of the tight race to popularise the use of solar power.
Kuhudzai told The Standard Style that they had chosen to go the solar way as a result of cost competitiveness and an abundance of the environmentally-friendly energy.

“Although the market opportunity for solar energy development is huge in a country like Zimbabwe that has abundant sunlight, the energy is underutilised,” he said.

Zimbabwe is one of the best solar radiation belts in the world with, according to Kuhudzai, an average of 2 100 kilowatt hours per square metre per year and 3 000 hours, equivalent to 300 days of sunshine per annum.

With so much potential resource, it is illogical to picture a shortage of electricity, as is the status quo.

Not only is the shift to solar advantageous to the hard-pressed citizens economically and a cleaner alternative compliant with NDCs to fight against climate change scourge, but it also promises great job opportunities for a largely unemployed youth population.

“As DPA through Cumii [another Econet offshoot], we have the technites platform where independent solar contractors, electricians can register and receive training to be approved by deployment partners,” said Kuhudzai.

He also added that a team of technites in South Africa had installed 10MWp in that country and will be responsible in the initial stages to supervise and train locals to produce the same amount or more electricity over the next 12 months.

Having already installed solar powering systems in most of their offices in Harare, Kuhudzai said they were already a step ahead of competition owing to disruptive pricing.

“We can offer commercial and industrial customers, a zero cost, zero risk option against a long-term commitment, which gives us in-house capacity and quality of skills that is untouchable in Zimbabwe,” he said.

But DPA is not alone in this new lucrative industry as other companies are also jostling for the same appetising business chance.

“We are coming to do the energy. We want to be the biggest producers of electricity and push it back into the green,” Bigtime Strategic Group chairman Justice Maphosa said recently.

Kuhudzai believes the country can be a leader in the renewable energy space by adding significant solar electricity into the generation mix and could become potentially a net exporter of power to the continent.

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