SOLARBusiness Reporter
ENERGY and Power Development Minister Samuel Undenge has sought Cabinet authority to access bids for Zimbabwe Power Company’s 300 megawatt solar projects after being frustrated by the State Procurement Board’s delay in approving the projects.

Minister Undenge said he decided to seek permission from Cabinet to evaluate financial and technical capacities of the tendering companies before making recommendations for faster implementation of the projects to alleviate power shortages in the country.

The solar power projects, meant to address the power deficit in the country and increase renewable energy contribution to the energy mix, as enunciated in the Zim-Asset medium-term economic policy, will be constructed in Bulawayo, Munyati and Gwanda.

The three solar projects have not progressed since 2012 due to alleged bungling of the tender process by SPB at a time the country is experiencing a debilitating power crisis due to limited generation capacity and frequent breakdowns of old power plants.

Minister Undenge made the remarks yesterday while delivering his key note speech at the launch of the National Solar Water Heating Programme to reduce the pressure of demand for power on the national grid; exerted by extensive use of electric geysers.

Cabinet has since directed the energy minister to draw a programme to phase out the use of electric geysers, which make up 40 percent of household bills, and replace them with solar water heaters to conserve power and reduce the national power deficit.

Zimbabwe was able to generate an average of 1 300Mw before Kariba South scaled down production after reduced water allocation, against demand for electricity at peak periods of 2 200Mw.

The energy minister said Government intends to install three solar power projects each with capacity to produce 100Mw, as part of several initiatives to deal with the chronic shortage of electricity.

“However, it has now been two years and no tender has been awarded due to bureaucratic processes at the SPB. No one is more frustrated by this delay than I am,” Minister Undenge said.

“I have since sought authority of Cabinet to assess the technical and financial capacities of the tendering companies and make recommendations to Cabinet for its decision so that the projects can be implemented as soon as possible to alleviate power shortage in the country,” Minister Undenge told delegates at the meeting.

This comes as Kariba South, which has capacity to generate 750Mw has reduced output by almost 300Mw after the Zimbabwe River Authority reduced water allocation between Zimbabwe and Zambia on concerns of falling water levels of Kariba Dam.

The dam is situated on the Zambezi River, the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia – the two countries with power stations on the southern and northern banks of the dam.

Power utilities from the two countries each had their water allocations reduced from 45 billion cubic meters to 40 billion cubic meters, as the lake’s water levels have fallen below prescribed levels following poor rainfall in the two countries last season.

Reduced generation at Kariba has worsened the already dire power supply situation in Zimbabwe, which sees some parts of the countries going for as long as 24 hours without access to power.

Secretary for Energy and Power Development Patson Mbiriri said power deficits, which have spawned power cuts stretching several hours or days on end have resulted in increased use of firewood and liquefied petroleum gas as alternative sources of energy.

However, Government is pursuing a number of power generation initiatives countrywide, among them 300Mw Kariba South expansion and 600Mw extension of Hwange thermal power station.

Extension of Kariba South is already underway and is being undertaken by Sino Hydro while an Engineering Procurement and Construction agreement was also signed with the same company last year for Hwange. Financial closure is expected buy December.

Government is also working with Zambia on the Batoka Gorge power project with capacity for 2 400Mw to be shared equally between Zimbabwe and Zambia, which is also facing serious shortage.

Other major Government power initiated generation projects include the Western Power Project (300Mw), Mutare peaking power project 120Mw, Bulawayo re-powering (60Mw), Munyati re-powering (70Mw) and Harare power station re-powering (90Mw).

Government has also licenced independent power producers to develop power stations and these include China Africa Sunlight Energy’s 600Mw plant on Gwayi River, the 600Mw Southern Power Project, 300Mw Lusulu project in Binga, 600Mw Lubu plant also in Binga and Sable Mining and CITIC’s 2400Mw initiative.