News in depth: ‘Going green’: Zimbabwe sets tone for renewable energy revolution in the region

The fourth International Renewable Energy Conference and Expo was attended by top energy experts, financiers, green energy entrepreneurs and investors, among others.

As delegates gathered at the end of the fourth edition of the International Renewable Energy Conference and Expo 2023 in Victoria Falls on March 23, they were ready to adopt resolutions that would have a lasting impact on the country’s energy sector.

After hours of deliberations, the delegates at the premier event agreed to a number of resolutions that would help shape the energy industry.

One of the most significant resolutions was that the power utility Zesa Holdings should strengthen the grid and protect renewable energy plants from load shedding.

This would enable the renewable energy plants to supply enough power to the grid.

“Having observed that renewable energy power plants are experiencing challenges in evacuating power to the grid as evidenced by the visit to the five megawatts Solgas power plant, the developer is encouraged to seek additional funding to upscale these solar projects whilst the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) strengthens the grid and possibly ring-fence these plants from load shedding,” read part of the resolutions.

Solgas, which aims to be a top producer of renewable energy services and products, partnered with Old Mutual to build a five-megawatt (MW) facility close to Hwange.

Power from the plant is sold to ZETDC under a 25-year power purchase agreement.

Hydrogène de France Director for Southern and East Africa Nicolas Lecomte shakes hands with ZETDC acting MD Engineer John Diya after signing a memorandum of understanding in the presence of President Emmerson Mnangagwa during the International Renewable Energy Conference in Victoria Falls last week

The project, which is anticipated to have a 50MW installed capacity by 2025, might significantly contribute to addressing the country's crippling power shortages and lowering the amount of foreign currency used to import electricity.

Zimbabwe is experiencing protracted power outages, with domestic and business users occasionally experiencing blackouts lasting up to 18 hours each day.

The delegates also urged the Energy ministry to develop and launch an energy efficiency policy and e-mobility framework before June 2023.

It was suggested that feasibility studies should be conducted at the sites that have been identified in the Zambezi Basin.

The delegates were also in favour of the Soltrain, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other partners' solar water heating business proposal, and urged the Energy ministry to seek funding for the National Solar Water Heating Programme.

The ministry was encouraged to review the solar water heating regulations to bring them in line with the constitution.

The power utility was urged to take advantage of the various rooftop and ground mounted systems installed by individuals, home owners, farmers and cooperates to mop-up additional capacity from consumers and launch a campaign to reduce connection hurdles.

The ministry and its parastatals were urged to amend the net metering regulations to allow for virtual net metering and financial rewards for those with excess capacity at their premises.

Government was encouraged to develop a strategy on green hydrogen and create awareness to promote the transition to clean energy technologies.

It was also recommended that the government must incorporate the development of a green hydrogen strategy into the budget for 2024, as well as visit Namibia or South Africa to learn from their work on hydrogen and become the first African country to build a green hydrogen plant for export.

The Energy ministry was implored to lobby for the establishment of Escrow accounts to cover foreign obligations of exporters and IPPs, as well as to prioritise the energy sector and expedite forex allocations at the auction floors.

Additionally, the ministry was urged to lobby for value-added tax (VAT) exemption on renewable energy equipment to reduce costs.

The conference also recommended that the government should value-add energy minerals, such as the platinum group of metals (PGM), copper, cobalt, manganese, nickel, chrome, zinc, and graphite, before exporting them.

The government was encouraged to give preference to local experts with proven expertise in developing energy projects as well as to work with international consultants in developing bankable projects.

Lastly, noting the critical importance of energy security and storage, the regulator was strongly encouraged to implement relevant regulations that will incentivise the deployment of battery storage systems at utility scale.

The resolutions of the conference were met with enthusiasm as the delegates expressed their commitment to the energy sector and the importance of the resolutions.

These resolutions are set to have a lasting impact on the energy industry, and are a testament to the power of collaboration and collective action.

Before adopting the resolutions, delegates discussed the latest developments in the field of renewable energy and made suggestions on how to best integrate renewable energy sources into existing energy systems.

Discussions were held on various topics such as the technologies in renewable energy, solar and hydrogen energy, financing and funding of energy projects, marketing energy transmissions, energy efficiency, transition into the future, the importance of energy storage and more.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who officially opened the conference on Thursday, stressed the importance of renewable energy in helping to tackle the climate crisis.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa officially opened the International Renewable Energy Conference and Expo 

Mnangagwa also expressed alarm over the theft and vandalism of the country’s electrical infrastructure and urged academic institutions to find a solution to the problem.

“As the president and the patron of this conference and expo, I remain gravely concerned with continued vandalism and theft of our country’s energy infrastructure,” he said.

“We need our young girls and boys in universities to develop technologies to deal with these thieves.

“Stakeholders in the criminal justice system, together with communities throughout the country, are urged to collaborate more closely towards ending such criminal and treasonous acts.”

Mnangagwa encouraged global investment in the energy sector and noted that his government had created an enabling environment for independent power producers to thrive.

The four-day conference, whose theme was Managing The Future — Clean Energy Possibilities was attended by top energy experts, financiers, green energy entrepreneurs and investors, among others.

It was organised by The Standard in collaboration with the Energy and Power Development ministry.

Some of the participants at the Fourth International Renewable Energy Conference and Expo 2023 in Victoria Falls last week

The Standard is under the AMH stable. AMH also publishes NewsDay, Zimbabwe Independent and Southern Eye and owns tele-radio platform Heart and Soul.

On the last day of the conference, a number of deals were struck between energy companies and investors, while the Ministry of Energy and Power Development announced several new initiatives that will help to further support the growth of clean energy technologies in the country.

An agreement worth US$300 million was signed during the conference by the French independent power producer HDF Energy to build Zimbabwe's first utility-scale green hydrogen power plant, known as Middle Sabi Renewstable, inside the Chipangayi Renewable Energy Technology Park (RETPark).

Since construction began in 2016, RETPark is a multi-project, multi-technology, and multi-investor park. It has all the necessary permits and studies in place to enable quick growth of tenant investments.

HDF Energy is developing several other multi-million euro-projects of this kind in various areas of the world such as Indonesia, Mexico, Australia, and Barbados.

Within Africa, apart from Zimbabwe, HDF has projects in South Africa and Namibia.

Nicolas Lecomte, HDF director for Southern and East Africa, said the electricity demand in the country was very high, in part because of the growth in demand by the productive sector, a positive sign for Zimbabwe’s future.

He said their solution was particularly suitable, not only to supply the necessary electricity, but also the network services to improve the stability and operating conditions of the electrical grid.

Lecomte said the signing was a key step in their engagement with Zimbabwe's power that demonstrates the commitment of HDF to invest in the development work required to reach a bankable power purchase agreement with the utility.

John Diya, who represented ZETDC, said: “This is an encouraging milestone for ZETDC as it comes at a time when the government is encouraging the transition to renewable energy.

“We are currently implementing initiatives to ensure security of electricity supply.

“Electricity is a key economic enabler, and we welcome such a partnership in a bid to bridge the demand/supply gap.”

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