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The economic toll of Covid-19 on Zimbabwe has deepened energy poverty

26 Mar 2021 at 21:43hrs | Views
Zimbabwe's management of the Covid 19 pandemic on the health front seems to have scored positively compared to other countries but the gains on statistics should not deflect attention from the perils of global health inequalities, energy poverty and hunger that pose a bigger threat to human life.

As a country we are facing a direct energy poverty nine years away from attaining the Sustainable development goals 2030. The economic toll on Zimbabwe as a result of the pandemic is likely going to derail the projection of  UN SDG7 to reach "access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all" by 2030.

This energy poverty is disastrous in that it's economic impact on development across sectors.
 
Zimbabwe is now a largely extraction based  and any production interruptions in the mining sector are deplorable since it is the mainstay of the economy. Mining requires a lot of electrical energy to fire production.

The country registered anaemic economic growth for the past 4 years after a record drought that devastated agricultural output another source of income.

Zimbabwe cannot afford a drop in mining production because that could tip the economy into recession, according to economic analysts.

Gold is the single largest mineral export and the government is on an aggressive drive to raise output from the record 996,373 ounces last year, but without power, these efforts will be in vain.

Producers of platinum import their own power, which secures production, but gold mines rely on the unstable national grid. Although they have been spared from the power cuts so far, they are not assured this will continue if the blackouts continue.

Zimbabwean economy is largely informal with a thriving backyard small to medium enterprises. These industries require power to make ends. The current situation is not enabling their growth and competitive advantage since power outages forces them to use expensive power sources. They then levy it on consumers making homemade products expensive compared to imports.

Availability of cheap and clean power supply will get SMEs competitive. They will shrug off carbon tax,adhere to green practices,and tap from economies of scale.

The current energy poverty weighs heavily on the dream of improving production both in the formal and informal sector.

The grand question is how did we get into this situation?

Zimbabwe has one hydro power plant Kariba  which was build by the colonial regime and four other coal-fired generators with a combined total capacity of 2,240 MW, just enough to meet the country's demand.

Kariba hydro plant, is only producing a third of its design output despite the fact that it  commissioned another 300 MW in 2019.

Hwange,the biggest coal-fired plant was built in the 1980s had false starts meaningful production started last year  adding another 600 MW to the grid.

These new generators will only come on stream in three years and even then, this does not guarantee power because the major coal supplier,Hwange Colliery, is struggling to stay afloat.

Three other smaller coal-fired plants with capacity to add 270 MW to the national grid are down after negotiations to secure funding from India's Export and Import Bank to repair and upgrade the generators floundered.

In the last decade, Zimbabwe signed at least six power generation agreements, including solar power that would have added more than 3,000 MW in new electricity to the grid, but the projects failed to take off due to bureaucracy and lack of funding because of the country's high political risk profile.

According to Energy minister Zhemu Soda since 2010, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) has licensed more than 70 Independent Power Poducers (IPPs) to establish electricity generation plants across the country  that failed to take off.

The licensed IPPs had promised to produce more than 6 000MW combined but at the moment the projects are only producing about 135MW.

Almost 5865MW target deficit.

In his  Parliamentary submission recently on Minister Soda said after licensing by Zera, the bulk of the IPPs went to the market to scout for funding from potential investors but to no avail.

Zimbabwe requires an additional 9 000MW to support economic activities that will drive the country towards achieving an upper middle-income economy by 2030.

Zimbabwe requires 2000MW of electricity monthly to meet its monthly power obligations.

Only last year the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe has issued a request for proposal to seek partners for the development and construction of seven solar parks, with a combined generation capacity of 235 MW, plus two mini-hydro power projects.

The PV plants include 50 MW facilities the GDE Bulilima Solar Energy Project, 20km from Plumtree Matabeleland South province; the Sable Solar Farm Project Kwekwe, Midlands province; the Gwayi Solar Project, in the Kusile district of Matabeleland North; and the Rufaro Solar Farm Project in Marondera.

A 10 MW scheme is planned to generate electricity for the national grid at an unspecified location, a 20 MW plant will be developed in Gutu, Masvingo and a 5 MW asset will be deployed at the National University of Science and Technology.

If all these projects see the light of the day energy problems will be halved. This will turn the fortunes at the production front.

Energy consumption, in all its many forms, enables everything from how we live, eat and move, to how we work and communicate. Greater energy use is also needed to end poverty and boost incomes around the world.

It is sad that the UN goal is especially salient across Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular where nearly all people live in energy poverty – energy is too costly, too unreliable or simply unavailable.

For Africa, quality energy access remains a daunting challenge and a tighter fiscal environment will exacerbate the problem for the economies of countries where there is little diversification. One light bulb does not constitute adequate access to energy when there are at least billion of people who need clean, affordable, reliable and equitable access to energy supply for clean water, public health and jobs.

The current crisis may result in a re-allocation of government spending toward health but rescuing an economy need not to derail climate neutral ambitions or action in Africa. Initial results of our rolling survey show that 24% of respondents expect a delay in climate change programmes while 27% are redesigning climate related plans in response to Covid-19.

Lack of electricity in Zimbabwe is not just a problem of cooking, lighting and other practical purposes. It's also a form of social suffering. It stratify the society humiliates and drain esteem amongst people.

Finding lasting solutions to end energy poverty require a sober and inclusive approach where the public and private sectors converge. Without that convergence 2030 energy poverty will say 'ndenge ndichipo' ( President E Mnangagwa voice).



Source - Taruberekera Masara in Pretoria
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