HomeNewsSmall-scale power generation lights up Chipendeke, Himalaya

Small-scale power generation lights up Chipendeke, Himalaya

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VILLAGERS in Chipendeke rural community, located 64km south east of Mutare, have in the last few years seen their lifestyles undergoing phenomenal transformation following the establishment of a micro hydro project.

Phillip Chidavaenzi

Himalaya-sawmill-under-construction

The Chipendeke Micro Hydro Scheme saw villagers enjoying the benefits of access to electricity in the far-flung rural outpost.

Key institutions such as clinics and schools have also started accruing benefits from the project, which was established as part of a five-year European Union (EU)-funded project, Catalysing Modern Energy Service Delivery to Marginal Communities in Southern Africa.

Against the backdrop of the expenses that went with connecting households to the national grid, the scheme demonstrated how cost-effective, sustainable and small-scale power generation could be the answer to the electricity woes bedeviling Zimbabwe.

Simon-Chichoni

The project was part of the sustainable-energy-for-all initiative partnering Hivos, Zimbabwe Regional Environment Organisation (ZERO) and Practical Action to ensure that the United Nations goal for achieving universal energy access modern energy by 2030 was achieved.

Hivos Energy Advocacy Officer (Sustainable Energy) Reginald Mapfumo said the scheme generated an average of 25 kilowatt (kw) supplied to 50 households in Chipendeke although it had a potential to reach 200 households.

“We need more independent power producers. The policy is there but there is nothing taking place on the ground,” he said.
He said $20 000 was required for every kilometre to be covered by the power line and that translated into a prohibitive cost of $60 000 per household.

“This particular power system works for lighting and entertainment as stoves demand more power, beyond the power station’s capacity,” he said, adding that villagers used recharge cards costing between 50 cents and $10.

He said the Ministry of Energy and Power Development threw its weight behind the project by demonstrating the political will required to get it off the ground.

The micro-hydro-power project is a technology that harnesses the energy of falling water to produce electricity. Chipendeke Micro Hydro Association project secretary Ndowa Sengasenga said the Chipendeke project started in 2005 when the Ministry of Energy tasked the Manicaland Irrigation Department to identify potential projects.

In 2008, Practical Action came up with the programme and they seconded their technical team to conduct a feasibility study on the potential of the targeted Wengezi Dam on its power generation capacity, which was pegged at 30kw.

“Because of our distribution capacity, we are now working like a small Zesa,” Sengasenga said. “We have set up a three-tier tariff structure in which those who contributed in establishing the project pay $32, those who never contributed anything pay $80, while business pays $300.”

Project awake to cultural sensibilities
Prior to the commencement of the project, Sengasenga said local traditional leaders conducted a ritual in line with their traditional beliefs as a means of commending the project to the local ancestral spirits in June 2009.

The ritual ceremony was presided over by the local headman who has since passed away.

“A ritual ceremony was conducted at the site of the project where a goat was slaughtered and beer was brewed to appraise the spirits at the start of the project,” he said.

After the ceremony, he said, community capacity building approaches were employed to empower the community with knowledge on the management of the project.

Headman Takesure Munyoro of Village 5 and 7 under Chief Zimunya added that it was important to conduct the ceremony because it was the traditional way of dedicating the project to the ancestors and consequently ensure its success in line with the local traditional belief system.

“This was meant to strengthen the project,” he said. “The place is sacred so it needed to be tamed, and because of the rituals that we conducted, the project was successfully implemented without any challenges.”

He urged community members to work together because such projects need unity of purpose, and not lone rangers who ran out of harness, to succeed.

Availability of power improves health services
Before the implementation of the micro-hydro project, Chipendeke experienced high infant mortality rates due to birth complications among women delivering at night with the help of traditional midwives and some having been turned away from the local clinic due to lack of lighting.

William Chanakira, a nurse at Chipendeke government clinic, said good times had rolled in following the establishment of the scheme that had significantly improved working conditions at the clinic.

In the past, the clinic witnessed maternal deaths due to unsafe deliveries using traditional midwives as expectations that must be met during deliveries to ensure the safety of mothers and the baby were often neglected or compromised.

“In the past we have such challenges because at that time there were no interventions to deal with post-birth complications,” he said.

“The situation is different now with the availability of electricity. We are now able to conduct deliveries without using candles.”

Women are now coming in their numbers and we have reduced maternal and neonatal deaths while solving complications.

He said they were also able to store vaccines that require cool temperatures for long and no longer had to rely on gas, whose supply was erratic, for refrigeration.

The availability of power has also attracted more staff. While Chanakira started off alone in 2008, working with just one nurse aide, the staff complement has now risen to three nurses and two support staff while the three staff houses at the hospital now have electricity.

He said following the connection of hydro-generated power at the clinic, they were now recording an average of six deliveries a month, against a target of 11. This was a vast improvement from between 2008 and 2009 when no deliveries were recorded since the government clinic was incapacitated.

He said they were also able to store vaccines that require cool temperatures for long and no longer had to rely on gas, whose supply was erratic, for refrigeration.

“In 2008 I was alone and worked with one nurse aide because conditions not favourable. With electricity we are now three nurses and two other support staff and the three houses for nurses now have electricity,” he said.

Villagers from Himalaya, which is located 15km away, were still travelling to Chipendeke to access health services.

An elderly villager, Servy Mudyariwa, also bemoaned the long distances they had to travel to reach the clinic, something that was a Herculean task particularly for pregnant women and those well-advanced in age whose strength had abated over time.

“The clinic is far, particularly for someone of my age, so if I get sick I may just die,” she said. “It will be good to have one here because it will lighten the burden, particularly for pregnant women.”

She recounted stories of someone who had delivered babies before reaching the clinic and bemoaned that traditional midwives were no longer offering services following the new legal requirements that only allow professionals to fulfill that obligation.

“We have raised these issues with the local leadership and we believe that they are looking into them,” she said.

Himalaya Micro Hydro Scheme a game changer
The Simbengadzibve Co-operative in Village 7 of Himalaya resettlement scheme has seen 30 households benefiting from the micro-hydro scheme although the major challenge was the unavailability of health facilities within their locality.

Secretary for the Himalaya Micro Hydro Scheme Utias Chakanyuka Chirara said they were currently constructing a sawmill to treat gum trees so that there could realise more profit from their labour.

“We used to sell gums at low prices but thought of how we can add value to get more money,” he said. “But with this sawmill we will be able to treat gums for sale in different parts of the country.”

He said they still needed more transformers to ensure that a bigger number of households and key institutions like schools would access power.

“Our expectations are that with the availability of power, we should get 30m3 daily which we take to the market because at the moment the challenge is that we hire transporters who charge as much as $600 per load to Mutare, which is 80km away, because the road is bad.”

He said they were currently producing 80kw which would be enough to get the mill running since it required between 8kw and 15kw to operate.

“It’s possible to produce 80kw because there is a lot of water in this area and the gradient to the mill is steep. It’s even possible to have over 100kw, but our machine has a capacity of 80kw,” he said.

Electricity powers business to viability

The business community at Chipendeke has also welcomed the availability of hydro-generated power which has spurred the growth of businesses.

Businessman Samson Chichoni said in the past they had to rely on fridges that were powered with paraffin, which was expensive but they were buying electricity recharge cards for just $10.

“We have more businesses now as more shops are being built and we don’t have any electricity cuts,” he said.

“The closest grinding mill is located at Himalaya and villagers have to walk an average of 15km to reach it and Chichoni said he was looking into ways of establishing a grinding mill.

Investment in power critical

The total investment in the Chipendeke micro-hydro project is pegged at €84 243. Co-founded by Practical Action, it was bankrolled by the European Commission to the tune of €65 903 along with a sweat equity contribution from the community in the form of labour and local materials valued at €18 340.

Out of Zimbabwe’s 12,5 million population, more than 70% live in rural outskirts and have no access to modern energy, with only 19% of the total population accessing electricity.

Fuel wood continued to dominate the national energy supply with most of the energy supply drawn from fuel wood (53%), coal (20%), liquid fuels (14%) and electricity (13%).

The country launched the National Energy Policy in 2012 to guide the implementation of projects in various subsectors, with the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority having been established to ensure a level playing field for all players in the energy sector.

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