Zimbabwe opens bids for 500MW solar plants

solar Zimbabwe
A solar installation by dpa Africa at a tea plantation in Manicaland

Zimbabwe is inviting bids for the installation of 500MW of solar power plants, hoping a shift to renewable energy will help ease crippling power cuts.

The country has faced power cuts of up to 18 hours since last year. Low water levels at the Kariba hydropower plant and constant breakdowns at the Hwange thermal station have cut output. The power cuts have only eased recently after much of the economy shut down due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

“The Zimbabwe Electricity and Distribution Company (ZETDC) is intending to contract 500MW of PV solar plants of varying capacities at different identified strategic locations,” the country’s power utility said in a notice.

Bidding documents are available from June 2020.

The solar power would reduce load shedding during the day time by “deploying properly sized solar plants at identified priority load centres”, ZETDC said. Solar would also reduce investment in connecting plants to the grid and associated lead times, mitigate against climate change risks on hydro and thermal power plants, and cut power imports, the company said.

Power crisis

Zimbabwe has seen little energy investment over recent years. Policy uncertainty and the difficulty of raising offshore funding for large scale projects in the country have kept investors away.

In March, Zimbabwe launched the National Renewable Energy Policy and the Biofuels Policy of Zimbabwe, hoping to attract investment.

The policy grants all renewable energy projects National Project Status. They have tax holidays of 5% for the initial five years and 15% thereafter. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements for projects of 5MW and less have been relaxed.

Licensing timelines for solar projects is currently six months, which has frustrated many investors. The new policy aims to reduce this, but gives no specific indications on the shortened licensing period.

Zimbabwe has recently published regulations allowing for net metering, where solar power users can feed excess energy back into the grid.

Earlier this year, Zimbabwe paid off arrears to South African utility Eskom. This could see Zimbabwe accessing daily supplies of up to 400MW. However, Zimbabwe remains in arrears to Mozambique’s HCB.

As at Tuesday, Zimbabwe was producing just 989MW, according to a daily update from the Zimbabwe Power Company. Kariba’s output was 594MW, well below its installed capacity of 1,050MW, while Hwange was producing 381MW.

Many Zimbabwean mines, among them Zimplats, RioZim and Caledonia, have set out plans to invest in solar plants to power up their operations.