Despite the large number of large-scale projects being announced or tendered over the past years and the recent introduction of a net metering scheme for rooftop solar, Zimbabwe had only 11 MW of installed solar capacity at the end of December 2018, according to the latest statistics released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
This low level of development is not only due to the country’s difficult macro-economic and political context, but also to a series of issues that have hindered the construction of large-scale solar plants across the country over past years, in addition to the lack of real incentives for distributed generation projects.
Reviving existing projects
Zimbabwe's minister of energy and power development, Fortune Chasi, however, now seems to have the intention of moving things forward, and to clean up business in the solar sector.
The Minister reiterated that the Gwanda Solar project needs to be completed as soon as possible because money was paid and the contractor needs to deliver the 100 MW as per the contract signed with ZPC. @officialzpc @InfoMinZW
— Ministry Of Energy And Power Development (@official_MOEPD) July 5, 2019
With this and other tweets, Chasi said that construction on one of the 100 MW Gwanda solar plants under development by Intratek Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd, must now be finalized. The minister also visited the site where the project is being built. “Hon. Min. F. Chasi ended the Byo tour with a visit to the site of the Gwanda Solar Project in order to assess the situation and progress on the ground. He was escorted by various officials from Gwanda local gvt,” the MOEPD also tweeted.
According to local newspaper The Herald, Intratek's owner, Wicknell Chivayo has officially apologized for the project's delay, as his company had been paid US$5 million by Zimbabwe Power Company for pre-commencement work. Chasi has also stated that the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) has incurred is a loss of around US$50 million due to the delayed project, which was planned to come online by the end of 2017.
In early June, a parliamentary committee had called for the cancellation of the project, according to ESI Africa. “The money paid to Intratek should be recovered after investigations are completed and the award [of the tender] to Intratek needs to be rescinded in light of violations of the Company's Act and the [now] repealed Procurement Act,” committee chairperson Temba Mliswa said at the time.
The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) had granted a license to the project in November 2017, after the consortium agreed it would construct the power plant at the reduced price of $140 million, instead of the previously planned $170 million.
The solar plant, together with two more 100 MW PV projects awarded to Chinese companies ZTE Corporation and MCC17 Group Co Ltd, is part of a tender that was finalized in 2015. Of the three assigned projects, however, only the Gwanda scheme seems still to be under real development. In June 2017, ESI Africa reported that ZTE had completed the feasibility study for its Insukamini Solar Project, but afterwards no more news on the project were repoerted.
A first tender for the three projects was finalized in 2014, but the country's authorities decided to scrap it after the awarded bids were judged as being too high at a later stage.
Getting rid of old permits
On July 8, a ministry also announced on twitter its intention to review all granted licenses to power generation projects.
“We need to quickly advance the execution of projects by all those who are licensed. I have asked ZERA to examine the status of each licensed project to see exactly where we are with each of them… pic.twitter.com/9l8YxCqp9w
— Ministry of Information, Publicity & Broadcasting (@InfoMinZW) July 8, 2019
In a second tweet on the matter, it also clarified that having a long list of licenses is not productive. “Everything has to be very legal. Licensees must be given the right to explain themselves around the issue of non-performance … we cannot hang onto people that keep licenses for speculative purposes,” it stated.
According to the Sunday News, as of the end of June, ZERA had given licenses to 61 IPP projects with a capacity of 6.6 GW across the country and, of them, only 16 totaling 131 MW are now operational.
A push for distributed generation
Meanwhile, Chasi said in an interview with The Herald last week that the government is also planning to provide unspecified incentives to rooftop solar under net metering. “So, we are currently looking at that. Once we are clear on the incentive, we will then be able to communicate to the public,” he said, without providing further details.
The net metering scheme came officially into force in December 2018 after being announced by the government at the beginning of last year.
Zimbabwe’s grid has suffered from power outages daily for the past decade, with ZESA struggling to raise to required capital to invest in new power stations. The country, which is now resorting to power imports from neighboring Mozambique and South Africa, is targeting to deploy 1 GW of power generation capacity from clean energy by 2025.
“So much can be done with solar energy,” Chasi said last week in one of his numerous tweets.
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