Zimbabwe’s First Solar Powered Mini Grid

Zimbabwe’s main power utility, Zesa Holdings, is implementing load shedding outside an official schedule following a breakdown at Hwange Power Station. “Due to a technical fault at Hwange Power Station, local generation is now depressed,” Fullard Gwasira, the spokesperson of Zesa said in a tweet, adding that “load shedding is now being implemented outside the published schedule.” In an interview, Mr Gwasira said two units at the power station had broken down reducing output by about 200 megawatts. For more information see the IDTechEx report on Distributed Generation: Minigrid Microgrid Zero Emission 2018-2038.

Zimbabwe is largely depending on thermal power from Hwange as a result of reduced electricity production at Kariba Power plant due to low water levels at Lake Kariba. Zimbabwe is currently experiencing severe power cuts that have seen consumers enduring long periods without electricity, often more than eighteen hours without power per day impacting on quality of life and viability of businesses.

The country is working on importing power from South Africa and Mozambique but is short on cash for power imports and technological upgrades since it charges under-market prices and relies heavily on obsolete equipment.

The recent commissioning of Zimbabwe’s first solar-powered 99kw mini-grid in Gwanda rural district, which is now benefiting more than 10 000 people, is a sustainable model which could be replicated across the country. The Mashaba solar-powered mini-grid was funded by the European Union aid for development cooperation in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific countries, with co-financing from the OPEC Fund for International Development and the UNDP, Global Environmental Facility. This project which benefited Zimbabwe, and also Nsanje and Chikwawa Districts in Malawi, was implemented by a consortium of NGOs with Practical Action as the lead partner supported by SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, Hivos and the Dabane Trust.

At present, this project is now helping the local community to survive droughts, enhance food security, health and education and improve livelihoods. The mini-grid provides power to a radius of up to 25km helping to boost economic activities in three irrigation schemes — Mankonkoni, Sebasa, Rustlers’ Gorge — as well as Mashaba and Msendami business centres and Mashaba Clinic and Mashaba Primary School.

This model provides insight on what can happen if the decentralisation of electricity generation is taken as a strategy to resolve some of the country’s pressing energy problems.

“The coming of electricity from our Mashaba solar power mini grid has brought joy and hope to us here. We now have improved lighting to help us conduct deliveries at our clinic,” says Sikhangele Ndlovu, sister-in-charge at Mashaba Clinic. “Before we got electricity, we used candles and our phones to help women deliver. This compromised privacy and safe delivery for the mothers. Lighting was so poor especially when we were suturing the patient.”

Staff at the clinic now have access to Internet and energy for lighting and domestic use.

With much of Zimbabwe’s grid power network overstretched and in need of repair, the off-grid solution is key to helping the majority of the poor to access energy as well as to attain the country’s Sustainable Development Goals on energy, health, education, food security and a sustainable environment.