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Zimbabwe may begin power exports next year

AS the power crisis eased in the past month, Ministry of Energy and Power Development permanent secretary Gloria Magombo (GM) says the country should start power exports next year. Indications of this positive trajectory have already come through since output from Hwange thermal power station increased two months ago, following a US$1,4 billion upgrade. In this interview, Freeman Makopa (FM), our senior business reporter spoke to Magombo about how she hopes to ride out deficits to transform Zimbabwe into a net exporter. She explains everything below:

FM: Please tell us about the current levels of power production.

GM: Our current demand is sitting at 1 850MW. We are now almost supplying exactly that amount, if we include imports from the region. We are almost there, but obviously you know that Kariba (hydroelectric power station) has had reduced output. We can produce more power in a year where there is much more water in Lake Kariba. We are cautiously using Kariba now, but the current supply is meeting our demand. We are able to run without any load shedding.

FM: Can we safely say load shedding is now history in Zimbabwe?

GM: Obviously, there might be faults here and there. But that demand is being met, and we hope if we get better rains next year, we will have much room to export or reduce our imports. However, with demand growth, we also expect that whatever we put into the grid is going to be consumed as we have big industries coming online by end of this year.

FM: Are there private sector players providing energy solutions in Zimbabwe?

GM: We have a lot of private sector players, who are providing energy solutions, not just in urban but also rural communities through the pay as you go system. If you drive around rural communities, there are very few homesteads without some form of solar panels today. Through our rural electrification fund, we are doing major programmes on solar. Through the Rwanda-Zesa (national power utility) programme, we are expecting to get loan financing, which will bring in solar home systems for distribution to homesteads that do not have access at the moment.

FM: Please shed more light on the Rwanda-Zesa agreement.

GM: It involves about US$800 million in investments into the sector. But it is targeting urgent requirements. One of the requirements is to increase the connections. I think we have a backlog of about 300 000 connections for new homes. Through the package, we will also have funding for solar home kits. But we are looking for funding for small solar plant as well there. There will also be money for (buying) transformers. This is to accelerate connections, because there are a lot of new suburbs coming up.

FM: What are the latest developments in terms of Independent Power Producers (IPPs)?

GM: Our target is to unlock value in those IPPs, which already have licences. We are happy that through the intensive energy users (initiative), there are some projects, which are already going to get anchor customers. These will then allow these projects to go into full bankability and funding. We have a lot of projects, which have been licenced. There (have capacity to produce) are almost 6 000 megawatts (MW). Our emphasis now is to bring in those, who will have the capacity to quickly start projects, if possible. That is what we are working on to ensure that 6 000MW is unlocked.

FM: What are your predictions for power demand by 2030?

GM: We now have a network masterplan, which is being polished up and we are looking at an additional 3 000MW to 4 000MW, which will need to be added. We have some of the coal plants, which we hope can be accelerated and built faster, especially given that India is still funding a bit of coal projects. But also, as the African continent, we believe that we still need a baseload, which can come from some of these (coal projects). We can still have coal plants, which are able to produce clean power. There are a lot of investments in innovations towards carbon capture, and we are praying that in the next few years, there will be breakthroughs. At the moment, carbon capture is a bit expensive. But we believe that just like other technologies, there will be breakthroughs that will reduce costs.

FM: There have been significant developments in the gas space?

GM: We know Mozambique has a lot of gas. We want to target our own gas internally, and (converting) gas to power is usually much faster than building thermal power stations, or large hydroelectric power plants. They will take four to five years, whereas gas to power can go up to 18 months. We are looking at gas coming in to bring in an additional 2 000MW over the next five to seven years. There is a lot of work, which is already going on in that space.

FM: How much, in terms of investment, is required?

GM: I think there are a lot of things that we need to do as a country to relook at our energy mix. We should look at the technology which is in place. Obviously, when you look at Bulawayo, Harare and Munyati power stations, those are technologies which were built far back. I think some of the first equipment came in 1947. So it is very old. What we are looking at, as government, is (to look) at new technologies which are coming up. Do we (need) a coal plant in Bulawayo, which requires that we transport the coal all the way from Hwange? We are now opening up on this issue to say what will be the best technology to implement in a place like Bulawayo, which is also sitting in the middle of a city. The technologies are there, which can be put in that area as an alternative.

FM: Does Zimbabwe’s power sector have access to international funding?

GM: Access to international funding still remains a challenge. If you look at the latest International Renewable Energy Agency report, access to funding in the last 10 years to Africa for renewable energy funds is less than 2% of total investments in the world. We are on our own, and we believe if we develop our economies by adding value and beneficiation of our minerals and other critical materials, (we can achieve our goals). We want to see solar battery manufacturing systems (come up). We know we are a small market, but we want to then look at the African Continental Free Trade Area as our market.


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