EDITORIAL COMMENT: Energy: We have to think in new ways

Emotions have flared, tantrums have been thrown but still, Zesa’s darkness engulfs the nation. Obviously, emotions are not the solution to this problem that threatens to reverse the nation’s economic gains of recent years. It is time to put emotions aside and look at the real issues so as to address the problem that faces us all as a nation.

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Besides, the Minister of Energy and Power Development has assured us that where power is concerned, we can breathe easy, at least for now.
\nTherefore, we need to safeguard the little that we have.

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The national power grid is evidently overburdened, and blaming Zesa or the Energy Minister is not going to light up our homes or revive our industries.
\nAs we said last week, the blame game is a game that we don’t need in town.
\nOnly well-calculated moves will see us through.

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There are the macro and micro issues worsening the national power crisis. While it has been easier to take it to the micro level and blame the geysers, the household ovens and electric heaters for the problems that we find ourselves in, since they are closer to us in our daily lives; a blind eye has been turned to the energy-intense macro issues for long enough.

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The real problem is embedded in our manufacturing and mining industries as a sizeable chunk of national power output is expended by the obsolete, inefficient equipment there.

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Think of fertiliser production, metal production, mineral production and the likes.
\nProducing these things does not come at a small cost to the country, energy-wise. There is a huge problem as regards the kind of plant and equipment we are using

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Take the case of Sable Chemicals.
\nWhen at full capacity, and with Zesa’s units all firing like they should be, Sable Chemicals can use as much as 10 percent of all generation capacity.

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This is because the technology used at that important national asset is outdated and highly inefficient.
\nThe powers that be at Sable Chemicals have said before that they are not happy with the efficiency levels of their plant and equipment.
\nBut it is still chugging along.

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Granted, Sable Chemicals is an extreme case on the spectrum. But what other electricity is being needlessly wasted across the entire spectrum at smaller industries that are using obsolete and inefficient equipment?

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It is appreciated that more than a decade of illegal Western economic sanctions have severely constrained the capacity of many firms to import new plant and equipment.

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At the same time, we have allowed the sanctions to become an excuse for lack of innovation both in terms of coming up with home-grown alternatives and finding clever ways of attracting investment and affordable credit from the many countries that we do have friendly relations with.

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The entire country stands to suffer – firstly because of the electricity waste that partly manifests as load shedding and secondly because of the attendant higher production costs – when we continue to allow industries to stutter along on dated equipment and technologies that only Neanderthals would marvel at.

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There is desperate need for innovation in industry. And the most basic starting point is linking our research institutions with industry.
\nElsewhere in this paper, we have Energy and Power Development Minister Dr Samuel Undenge talking about industries that consume electricity like we have it in abundance. And we also have the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe talking about new innovations that the institution is rolling out.

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We also know that the Harare Institute of Technology, Sirdc and the Research Council of Zimbabwe are in possession of many ideas and innovations that could make big differences in how we do things.

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But there seem to be no linkages between academics and industry. And the nation suffers.
\nSuch linkages will not only improve the performance of industry, but will also create jobs and drive the economy forward in a sustainable manner.

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We cannot keep holding onto ways of doing business that have not worked.
\nA sanctions-hit economy must innovate and find ways of moving things forward. It is in such situations that innovation must thrive.
\nIn the face of the increasing energy crises, the nation needs to re-strategise and find ways of replacing outdated and run-down equipment.
\nWe have to think in new ways, we have to work in new ways. After all, has Government not declared that the old Rhodesian economy is dead?