By Nqobile Tshili
The country has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of households resorting to using solar energy which has been attributed to increased power outages in the past and failure by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) to connect new suburbs to the national grid.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 last year which has forced many people to work from home as part of measures to decongest the workplace, these workers now need uninterrupted power supply hence many have turned to solar as a back up in the event of Zesa power outages.
The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) says although there has been an increase in households using solar power, the authority does not have the exact national statistics of the number of homes that are connected to the alternative energy source. Zera said solar power gadgets imports increased to about US$22 million in 2019 from about US$9 million in 2017.
In 2015 the country imported only US$7 million worth of solar components and before that the imports were less than US$5 million.
“The usage of solar has generally been increasing over the past five years. The solar PV penetration in households has been increasing rapidly though the exact percentage at the moment is not known as it calls for a national survey.
“The Rapid Assessment and Gap analysis of 2015 reports notes that: In 2010-11, 18 percent of Zimbabweans households owned solar panels which may be a convenient means to power or charge electrical devices, especially in the absence of grid power or access to grid electricity.
“Ownership of PV panels is much higher in rural areas compared to urban areas where most power consumers are connected to Zesa, a confirmation that access to electricity is much lower in rural areas,” said Mr Mazambani.
He said despite power consumers resorting to alternative energies such as solar, it remains an expensive energy source.
“Alternative energy sources usually require high initial upfront costs and therefore cannot be afforded by most people despite the country’s abundant resources,” he said.
Chronicle has observed that most urban residential areas where Zesa has taken long to connect electricity, residents have resorted to using solar energy.
Mr Mazambani said 17 percent of the urban population was not connected to the national grid hence residents were turning to solar energy.
The energy regulator last year announced that it was in the process of regulating the installation of solar equipment.
Mr Mazambani said the demand for solar energy has resulted in the rise of bogus solar panel installers hence the need for regulation.
“Zera developed draft solar PV regulations to provide a regulatory framework for the licensing of solar companies and solar PV installers. The regulations are still being reviewed by stakeholders. The regulations are meant to instil sanity in the solar energy sector where unscrupulous and bogus installers had besieged the sector,” said Mr Mazambani.
A complete solar set consists of a battery, inverter and solar panel.
Erratic electricity supplies which the country experienced in 2019 saw companies such as Econet turning to solar as an alternative source of power.
A manager at a local company selling solar components, Solar Solutions Mr Felix Marongedza said Covid-19 has brought a new dimension in the use of solar systems.
“Our clients now are coming from across fields, schools, mines as well as homes with and without electricity. We have people opting out of the national grid in favour of renewable energy because of Zesa’s high tariffs. Some of the solar consumers have waited for too long to be connected to the national grid,” he said.
Mr Marongedza also said the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed people to online learning which requires uninterrupted power supply and as such many people have turned to solar for back up so that teachers and students are not affected by Zesa power outages.
“Working from home has had the same effect as employees need uninterrupted power supply so that they don’t miss for example zoom meetings or delay in submitting reports. In the past some people turned to generators during power outages but the high cost of fuel has seen many resorting to using solar energy,” said Marongedza.
He however said solar systems can be expensive if individuals engage unscrupulous suppliers who sell substandard components.
“A decent kit that can power lights, TVs and a refrigerator costs plus or minus US$ 2000 and anything between US$1 500 and US$2000 can buy you a decent system,” said Mr Marongedza.
A home solar energy user Mrs Sakhile Moyo from Pumula South said she has been using it for the past four years.
She said she installed the system for US$800 and said it was very efficient.
“The solar system includes a solar panel, battery, an inverter and a controller and can power most of the home electrical gadgets. For example, I’m using a 300 watts solar panel, 12 volts battery and a regulator, 1 000-watt controller and 30Amp controller and this kit can power almost all the household electrical gadgets including television, radio, laptop and lights. However, it cannot power a stove and other gadget that use electric elements such as a heater,” she said.
Green energy expert Dr Chipo Mukonza said the adoption of solar energy helps in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
She however, said many people who could be enjoying the clean energy were not doing so because of the prohibitive initial costs of installing solar energy.
“The economic challenges that we are facing are derailing the adoption of solar energy. The initial costs of installing solar energy or any other alternative forms of renewable energy are high hence the slow uptake of these alternative forms of energy. Scepticism has also played its part as many people believe it’s not reliable when there is no sun.
However, these days solar panels come with batteries that help in storing energy and kick in when needed,” said Dr Mukonza. The Chronicle