Chinese companies take lead in developing clean power supply in Zimbabwe

2015-12-01 09:33Xinhua Editor: Gu Liping

As the world's most developed countries and emerging economies are locked in heated talks to cut emission, the trend of developing clean energy has crept into Africa, a continent that is yet to industrialize and has huge energy gaps.

In Zimbabwe, it might be Chinese companies which are leading the trend. In October, three Chinese companies won the deals to build Zimbabwe's first large-scale solar power stations, feeding 300 MW electricity to the strained national grid currently struggling at less than 1,000 MW against peak demand of 2,200 MW.

Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) said for the three deals, it signed an agreement with Intratrek Zimbabwe which will work with Chinese partner CHINT Electric to construct a 202 million U.S. dollar plant in Gwanda, Matabeleland South Province. The second agreement was signed with Number Seventeen Metallurgical China for the construction of another 163 million dollar plant in Munyati, Midlands Province, and the third with communications giant ZTE for the 197 million dollar Insukamini project in Matabeleland North Province.

Energy sources have lauded the deals saying that the cleaner renewable solar technology will augment supplies from the aged Hwange Thermal Power Station which is constantly breaking down and at the Kariba Hydro Power Station which is currently suffering from low water levels due to drought in the region.

A spokesperson for ZPC's parent company ZESA Holdings said recently that the power utility supported the development of solar power generation.

"Solar power plants are quicker to construct and are quite suitable for phased construction. As the technology matures, prices are expected to further drop so that it can come at an affordable tariff," the spokesperson said.

However, he said, one of the disadvantages was that solar photovoltaic did not provide energy at all times, peaking in the afternoon and becoming unavailable at night, that additional generating capacity must be kept available to stabilize the grid.

Photovoltaics (PV) is a method of converting solar energy into electricity.

China has also been considering Africa for growth in its PV sector following anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations by the United States and European countries.

Africa's energy deficit and sunny climate offer favorable conditions for the growth of the solar power industry in China.

Director of the special initiatives division in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Fatima Denton told African delegates at a regional climate change conference that Africa had become increasingly vulnerable to climate change and there was need for the continent to ensure energy security through accelerated investment in renewable energy.

Africa possessed plenty of potentially renewable energy sources such as hydro power, geothermal, biomass, solar and wind energy and these presented huge investment opportunities for China, Denton said. Unfortunately, it continued to lag behind in the exploitation of renewable energy mainly due to lack of funding to bankroll clean energy projects.

Zimbabwe's neighbors Zambia and South Africa are also moving towards solar energy development with Zambia hoping to triple power output to 6,000 MW in two years through expansion of solar energy projects by foreign investors.

South Africa has coal, wind, nuclear, solar, gas and hydro, with coal being the biggest producer at 84 percent in 2012 while solar was at zero percent.

It intends to move to 30 percent coal, 17 percent nuclear, 16 percent wind, 15 percent solar, 15 percent gas and 7.2 percent hydro by 2030.

On a smaller scale, many people are also taking to solar development at their homes to beat power blackouts running to more than 24 hours in some instances.

Although they note that solar power is expensive to install, they have realized that it becomes cheaper in the long run because of low maintenance costs and the free sunshine.

"Due to the high costs involved, about 6,000 dollars for a three-bedroomed home, I am phasing the installation of solar power at my home, and although not done yet, I feel very good about it," said Harare resident Daniel Kwaramba.

Zimbabwe produces a maximum 1,100 MW - half its peak demand and industries have to fork out more money to run generators in order to keep their businesses running.

Zimbabwe currently has two major power plants-the hydro-electrical 750MW plant in Kariba, completed in 1977 and the thermal 920MW Hwange station commissioned between 1983 and 1987. As of June 30, the two plants were generating 606MW and 545MW, respectively.

Zimbabwe shares Lake Kariba with Zambia, which gets 90 percent of its power from hydro which it generates on the northern bank of the dam wall.

The lake, which is on the Zambezi River, gets most of its water from the upstream countries of Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Angola, which have not been spared by less rains as a result of climate change.

Chinese company Sino Hydro is expanding the Kariba South power station to produce an additional 300 MW for Zimbabwe at a cost of about 355 million dollars.

The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority has licensed 21 independent power projects, but the majority of them are yet to take off because of the huge capital outlay involved.

A total 10 billion dollars is required for the projects.

So far, most of the proposed developments in the energy sector are in thermal power stations which are strategically located to the northwest of the country where there are abundant coal reserves.

Zimbabwe's biggest thermal power station is also in Hwange with an installed capacity of 920 MW, with smaller ones found in Harare, Bulawayo and Munyati.

Sino-Hydro will in 2016 start expanding the Hwange Thermal Power Station to add another 600 MW to the grid.

Finance and Economic Development told parliamentarians early November that Chinese institutions would soon release 1.1 billion dollars for the expansion of the power station.

But thermal power stations are not only the most expensive to build, they also pollute the environment.

Before any development takes place, investors carry out intensive environmental impact assessments to ensure that they do not adversely affect the ecology of the region which is also home to the country's biggest game reserve-Hwange National Park.

In the case of another thermal project around the area, conservationists have already raised a red flag saying that mining in the Gwayi area would cause environmental concerns.

Gwayi Valley Intensive Conservation Area chairperson Langton Masunda told local media that coal mining would result in the contamination of underground water streams because chemicals such as ammonia, benzene and carbon would be released into the ground as a result of coal-mining activities.

He said Zimbabwe also shared wildlife with Botswana and mining in the Gwayi Valley would push wildlife, including elephants, into the drier neighboring country. Zimbabwe's Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the African continent contributed the least greenhouse gasses, but stood to lose the most because of its vulnerability and limited adaptation capacity. "It is the continent that has the greatest interest in a climate governance framework that is functional and capable of controlling emissions," he said.


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