Nhimbe Fresh, the fresh produce exporter, will start work on a 1.9MW solar power facility after South African energy start-up Sun Exchange raised US$1.4 million in a crowd sale that may be a model for similar projects.
Phase one of the project will power Nhimbe Fresh’s packhouse and cold store facilities, pump sites in phase two, and also Nhimbe’s Churchill Farm under phase three. Sinogy, the local energy company, will install the solar plant.
“We look forward to the completion of phase one in five months. What started as wishful thinking is now a reality,” said Nhimbe Fresh owner, Edwin Moyo.
Nhimbe has said the scheme could cut its energy costs by up to 60%.
Nhimbe Fresh exports blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, stone fruit, snap peas and snow peas to retailers in Europe and the UAE from its Rakodzi, Sable and Churchill farms near Marondera.
The project will help Nhimbe Fresh expand production from 20 hectares to 200ha over five years, Moyo said previously. Solar will back Nhimbe’s US$15 million joint venture with the UAE’s Farmgate to produce fruits, macadamia nuts and vegetables for the UAE market.
This is the first such fund raise that Sun Exchange has done. Under the model, the start-up invited investors to buy individual solar cells. In exchange, these investors earn money from rentals paid out in either local currency or cryptocurrency from the electricity generated.
Sun Exchange said the crowd sale attracted more than 1,700 individual buyers from across 98 countries.
Investors earn a monthly income stream for 20 years, with an estimated internal rate of return (IRR) of 16.71% in Rand terms, the firm said.
“This is the highest earning potential of any solar project run through the Sun Exchange platform to date,” said Sun Exchange founder and CEO Abraham Cambridge.
To mitigate currency risk, solar cells are leased to Nhimbe Fresh at a USD-pegged fixed price.
While electricity supply improved last year, Zimbabwean agriculture producers are increasingly looking to solar for steady power.
Tanganda, owned by Meikles, has installed a 1.8MW solar plant at its Ratelshoek tea estate in Chipinge. The plant, built by DPA, is now supplying power for irrigation and acting as a standby source of power for the factory supported by diesel generators when power supply from the national grid is interrupted.
The company is close to completing two more solar power plants; Tingamira’s 1.6MW and Jersey’s 2MW plants. In total, Meikles plans to install 7.5MW of solar power.
Another major horticulture exporter, Ariston, last year said it was evaluating a solar plant to secure power supply for its estates.