IF there is anything the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority has succeeded in doing over the past couple of weeks, it is to turn the ordinary Zimbabwean into a Stone Age caveman, who, not knowing any means of power generation, retires daily to a dark dungeon.

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Power cuts, which often last more than 16 hours daily, have become brutal.

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That the circumstances that have precipitated our new unfortunate circumstances were unforeseen is reasonable enough, but the serial failure by those in charge to put long-considered power projects, especially solar power projects, on line is damning.

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The decision made by the Zambezi River Authority, which superintends over the administration of the water body, to ration water supplies to Zesa and its Zambian peer Zesco mean that the Zimbabwe Power Company – a unit of Zesa – is only allowed to generate 475MW from its installed capacity of 750MW at Kariba South Power Station.

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Kariba South is the workhorse of the country’s power generating infrastructure, as power supplies from Hwange Thermal Power Station, which is often plagued by malfunctioning antiquated equipment, are usually unreliable.

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The resultant 277MW deficit is the reason for our current misery.

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It is ironic that such rolling power outages, which without a doubt will have an impact on both home industries and large-scale industrial companies, are taking place in September, a full two years after the country floated a tender for the establishment of three separate solar projects that were earmarked to pump 300MW onto the national grid – enough to comfortably cover for the current deficit.

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Although three companies – ZTE Corporation; Chint Enterprises, which had partnered with Intratrek; and Green Solar – were shortlisted for the project, its current status is still unknown as the matter is still parked somewhere at the State Procurement Board’s offices. Each project, which was expected to generate 100MW, was valued at US$183 million.

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Intratrek and ZTE Corporation, who were both losing bidders, were given a share of the cake as the scope of the project was expanded. As it stands, the solar project is on a highway to nowhere.

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But interestingly Pakistan, which is facing more or less the same predicament as Zimbabwe, managed to float its tenders, shortlist a winning bidder – China’s Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Company – and open its own 100MW solar plant in May this year. In particular, the installation of the plant was done in record time (three months) from November 2014 to January 2015.

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All this happened while those that were entrusted in seeing through the local projects were busy dithering. Presently, more than 60 percent of Pakistan’s power needs are generated from oil and gas, while 30 percent come from hydro power.

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Just as the water levels on the Zambezi river have been receding, the flow of water in the Indus river, which is the main source for hydro electric power, has become increasingly erratic due to changing rainfall patterns, glacial melt in the western Himalayas region, and the impact of widespread deforestation.

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Pakistan is now exploring more ventures in wind and solar. Not surprisingly, its Government has since scrapped duty on the import of solar panels.

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True to the word of the Chinese investors, the plant, which is considered one of the world’s largest solar plants, was opened within the stipulated time-frame.

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The plant sits on over 200 hectares of desert land. It is already generating 100MW and will be generating 300MW by the end of the year. Interestingly, while the project cost of the Gwanda solar plants was put at US$183 million, the Pakistan solar plant – the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park (named after the founder of Pakistan) – which was constructed in less than a year cost just US$131 million.

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Where is the additional US$52 million cost for the local solar power projects coming from?

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It boggles the mind.

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One can be forgiven for concluding that all these forecasted local project costs are inflated. Assuming that the project costs are inflated, this will definitely have an impact on the tariff that will be charged on the consumer.

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But the Gwanda project is not the only one that seems to be aborted.

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In October 2010, the Rural Electrification Agency announced an ambitious plan for a massive solar energy project through which the initial plant – expected to produce 10 megawatts – was to be built in Mazowe. It was believed that such a plant would have been big enough to power a town such as Marondera and its peripheries. The project was expected to have started in February 2011.

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A Chinese firm Shaanxi Photovoltaic Industry, owned by the Chinese government, was chosen to undertake the project.

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Five years down the line, there is absolutely nothing to show for these efforts.

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All this while, we still expect the investors to be still queuing up with their funds to invest in these projects as if there are no competing investment destinations.

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For a country that has walked the hard miles through installing 500 000 prepaid meters for both domestic and industrial users, with only 300 000 units still outstanding, which makes it attractive enough for any potential investor as they are assured of recouping their investments, our current circumstances are disappointing.

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Probably only the tariff for such projects needs to be tweaked in order to make it attractive. The power that is being sold from Pakistan’s solar park at USc14,7 per kilowatt hour seems to be reasonable enough considering that the average tariff in sub-Saharan Africa is USc15/kWh.

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All these issues need to be looked into.

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However, first there is urgent need to exorcise the demon that makes us as a people incapable of simply implementing policies that we would have agreed on.

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The only thing that we can do at the moment is to think about what could have been had we embarked on the Gwanda solar project.

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Food for thought.

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But for the time being, the wages of dithering are painful power outages.

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