FREEMAN MAKOPA LIQUIFIED petroleum gas (LPG) consumption rocketed 833% in the past decade as Zimbabwean households, battling frustrating blackouts, turn to alternative energy to power homes, a senior government official told businessdigest this week.

Gloria Magombo, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, said Zimbabwe guzzled 56 million kg of LPG last year, compared to six million kg in 2012.

The rise was mostly driven by robust demand from households, who have been confronted with gripping power blackouts as national power utility Zesa Holdings struggles to match what consumers want.

The State-controlled electricity producer’s multi-billion dollar power facilities have been overwhelmed after prolonged undercapitalisation, placing the country’s growth plans under threat.

So dire is the situation that a presentation made by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) in October titled “Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) Operations Overview”, warned that the “viability and survival” of the Zimbabwe Power Company had been thrown into doubt by factors that include a deteriorating foreign currency crisis in the country.

The paper said key facilities had been buffeted by “numerous forced outages owing to tube leaks and ID fan failures” that have compromised reliability.

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But Zesa Holdings chairperson Sydney Gata said rolling blackouts currently affecting the economy would be addressed by this year.

Zesa said out of a combined capacity to generate 2 280 MW, output had plummeted to 1 386MW in October, which translates to about half of this capacity.

“The country has witnessed an upsurge in the use of LPG particularly in the domestic sector,” Magombo said, speaking exclusively to businessdigest.

“The annual use of LPG increased from about six million kg in 2012 to around 56 million kg by 2021. The demand is largely coming from the domestic sector but we expect industry, particularly power generation, to also play a part in the future.

“Gas is a key input in the production of fertiliser. We are targeting over 1 000MW gas to power projects to be rolled out over the next five years or so,” she said.

Magombo said while Zimbabwe’s gas fields still had not yet been fully developed, they presented an opportunity for the country to ride out the power shortages.

Official estimates indicate that the country could be sitting on 765 billion cubic metres of measured coal-bed methane gas, which dwarfs the total measured resources in the rest of the Southern African Development Community put together.

The resource was discovered in the Lupane area, where a number of test wells have been drilled.

Significant progress has also been made in the hunt for natural gas in Muzarabani, about 300 km north east of Harare, where Australian outfit, Invictus Energy, has been exploring since 2015.

The Muzarabani gas fields lie in close proximity to proven energy resources across the border in Mozambique, a factor that gives Zimbabwe hope that similar finds might be made this side.

“Feasibility studies (in Muzarabani) are currently underway. The studies will reveal how much local supply of gas we have,” Magombo said.

“However there is potential for gas from Mozambique, which is being investigated. Reserves are already proven and options for power generation projects (are) under consideration.”

She said the government was confident that investors would come to invest in Zimbabwe’s power sector.

“The ministry is confident that investors will continue to be interested in our power sector. The fact that a number of projects are currently under construction is a positive signal,” the permanent secretary said.

“These are mainly being driven by local financial institutions, pension funds like Old Mutual and the National Social Security Authority are also coming on board.

“We expect about 20MW from independent power producers, which are under construction this year coming online. The renewable energy implementation strategy has had a boost with US$10 million coming from the SDG (sustainable development goals) fund with local funding to raise US$35 million,” she said.

The ministry and the United Nations Development Programme recently launched the US$1,5 million for gap funding for off-grid systems for rural communities.

“A pipeline of bankable projects will be developed as the projects will provide for feasibility studies,” Magombo added.

“However, if there are any bottlenecks, the ministry will continue to engage international finance institutions to resolve the challenges in the spirit of Easy of Doing Business.

“These are already being addressed through the development of a government implementation agreement which is currently under consideration by the Ministry of Finance,” she added