By Judith Sibanda
Power utility, Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA Holdings), in a move aimed at switching from hydro and thermal sources of electricity to solar, is rolling out US$500 million worth of solar projects countrywide, in an ambitious project to end almost a year of severe load shedding.
The country’s source of hydropower – Kariba Dam – has been hit by successive droughts and now is generating a third of its installed capacity while the four thermal stations constantly breakdown due to lack of maintenance.
Documents made available to CITE this week show that ZESA Holdings, in partnership with private intends to embark on the massive solar projects in the next two years with Bulawayo set to get two solar plants generating 500 MW of electricity while Victoria Falls will have 5MW plants.
Ikhupuleng Dube, a senior ZESA official, confirmed the projects saying sites for the proposed solar projects were already identified and tenders would be awarded by November to end 18-hour power cuts the country has been grappling with since last year.
“We have assessed all districts in Zimbabwe where there are economic activities that shouldn’t be load shed much, so based on that, we have selected certain sites and one of the sites is Victoria Falls International Airport which is going to be our pilot project where we shall install 5MW to make sure that the airport is self-sufficient in terms of power,” he said.
“We have also identified Lupane, Bulilima in Plumtree, Bulawayo, Umguza, Zvishavane, Gweru, Kwekwe, Gokwe, Munyati, Chegutu, Chinhoyi, Makonde, Bindura, Guruve and in Manicaland but we are still to go and identify a site.”
The estimated costs will be US$1 million per MW.
Kariba is only generating a meagre 390MW against a daily demand of 1475MW hence a need to partner with private investors.
“We haven’t flighted the tenders yet but that will be through international tendering system, all provinces are going to benefit from this even at district level and their capacity will range depending on the demand but on average it will be between 20-50 MW with some big cities like Bulawayo having two by 250MW plants,” said Dube.
“These are very urgent projects in line with our energy policy, and we want them to be commissioned by June 2022. Once we award the tender which should be around November it will take about nine months to put plant depending on the size.”
Dube said feasibility studies had already been done at some districts with detailed documents having been finalised and awaiting advertisement.
“Covid-19 has already affected the project because this week we were supposed to do Manicaland province and conclude site identification but we are continuing working on those sites that don’t need physical contact anymore like preparing tender documents, feasibility studies, radiation, load capacity and network,” Dube said.
He said they strategically crafted the solar projects in a mini-size manner based on the demand of each districts to reduce infrastructural costs and manage weather patterns.
“Apart from that we preferred dotting them all over because if there is a cloud cover we may lose the entire capacity if the project is housed in one place and in addition, there is also network connectivity that will be at minimum cost and fast and there is also a possibility of conserving water for hydro plants,” he explained.
ZESA’s long term power plans include Batoka Gorge hydropower project expected to produce 1200MW by 2027 and another power regional plant at the Devil’s Gorge on the Zambezi River scheduled for 2032.