WHEN Kashiri village headman Francis Kashiri first gave a nod for Nyangani Renewable Energy (NRE) to start setting up mini-hydro stations in Honde Valley’s ward 5 a decade ago, he was considered a sell-out by colleagues from neighbouring villages.
Historically, the picturesque valleys in the Eastern part of Zimbabwe had been known for tourism and immense agriculture producing an array of crops including fruits, vegetables and cereals.
Making a case for the untapped clean–hydro–energy potential in the area sounded like a stretch, perhaps an inane ploy to grab land and disturb people from their traditional ways of life.
Adding to the chaos was the fact that the coming in of NRE in 2011 meant that some locals, particularly those with fields close to the courses of the rivers, would lose parts of their land albeit with compensation to make way for the Independent Power Project (IPP).
“No one knew that water could be a source of energy. At first fellow villagers actually hated me as they assumed that I had sold out our area for personal gain,” explained Kashiri. “When they (NRE) were opening the first pipeline, they had to place pegs but some people kept on removing, it was a hard process.”
IPPs are privately sponsored power projects that are privately developed, constructed, and operated and have long-term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with the national power utility and off-taker Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution Company (ZETDC).
Through a run-off river power system, a type of hydroelectric generation plant whereby little or no water storage is provided, NRE has to date managed to fill a significant part of the country’s dire energy deficit through the production of over 30 megawatts (MW) from hydropower stations.
Was Kashiri right?
“No one had knowledge that this would help us but now people have developed to a better place. Now everyone is connected to the grid and have developed modern housing buildings as well as installed current farming equipment,” said Kashiri.
True to his sentiments, in addition to producing clean and environmentally friendly energy, NRE has brought viable development to the once backward peasant communities.
Hundreds of locals have benefitted from job opportunities, compensation for their land and ongoing infrastructural development that seemed a distant dream some ten years back.
Through a run-off river power system, a type of hydroelectric generation plant whereby little or no water storage is provided, NRE has managed to fill a significant part of the country’s dire energy deficit.
“Most people are just happy that power is always on in this part (Manicaland province, where Honde is situated) of the country but they do not know that the main reason for that is NRE,” the company’s Power Generations Manager Takudzwa Chigwande said.
According to Chigwande, despite prior hardships owing to the community’s scepticism, Honde Valley has become a “green area” where “there is no load shedding” as they are producing surpluses beyond the three megawatts needed to power it.
This comes at a time the country’s main power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) has been failing to meet the nation’s demand of 2200MW resulting in long hours of load shedding.
In most cases, Zesa’s generation is reported to be below 1000MW, against a daily peak demand of 1600MW in winter and 1400MW in summer.
This has prompted the country to turn to other countries including South Africa (also facing an internal power shortage), Mozambique and Zambia to top up supplies.
UN research points at 13% of the global population still lacking access to electricity while three billion people are said to rely on unsustainable sources like wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating.
In Zimbabwe, over 60% of the population is not even connected to the electricity grid, which means they have little to no access when it comes to up-to-date energy supply.
This is aside from the fact that last year the land-locked country officially launched the National Renewable Energy Policy (NREP) and has so far licensed over 90 IPPs. Less than 10% of these projects have been completed by now while a minor three per cent were said to be functional to date.
Meanwhile, gazing at the scenic mountainous terrain punctuated by tidy tributaries and teeming banana plantations, Chigwande sees the opportunity to extract more clean power in Honde Valley and other places across Manicaland.
“There are many sites to build hydro (power stations) because the perennial rivers are there and in some areas the sites are determined by the gradient so there are some sites that you can see,” he said.
But, financial constraints have stalled NRE expansion at Tsanga power station in Nyanga with the company also facing viability challenges due to the failure of ZETDC to pay them good rates and on time.
“There are some rivers that have not been exploited like in Nyanga we are doing a cascaded power station but one has stopped at 40% because of the economic hardships,” said Chigwande.
Is Zimbabwe serious about clean energy?
With the country’s commitment to meeting UN-enlisted Sustainable Development Goal 7, which advocates access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy, the country still lags behind in terms of implementation and funding clean power.
This, coming at a time when coal projects are seemingly flourishing and getting investment for expansion, begs a question on the seriousness of the country in its commitment to a clean energy switch in order to provide access for all.
“We have the 2019 Renewable Energy and Bio Fuels Policies which all stakeholders need to work on together to ensure we implement the target in the policies,” says Renewable Energy Association of Zimbabwe chairman Isaiah Nyakusendwa.
According to the NREP that supposedly dictates Zimbabwe’s energy direction for the future, the country ought to prioritise the use of its vast clean energy potential in the quest for sustainable future development and betterment of livelihoods.
Nyakusendwa believes that if there is sincerity in any of it, action should start now: “The world over is moving towards cleaner power sources and we cannot be an island.” He adds that should the country “continue to use fossil fuels there is need for it to be a lot cleaner.”