Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu, Gwanda Correspondent
Zimbabwe’s first solar-powered mini-grid set to benefit more than 10 000 people and at least 2 800 households while giving farmers a cheaper and reliable energy source, was commissioned in Gwanda district on Thursday.
The Mashaba solar-powered mini-grid was funded through a four-year 7,1 million euro project for Zimbabwe and Malawi under the European Development Fund (EDF), the main instrument for European Union (EU) aid for development cooperation in Africa, the Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP Group) countries.
Speaking during a briefing at the commissioning of the 99-kilowatt solar mini-grid in Ward 19 in Gwanda, Deputy Director of Energy, Conservation and Renewable Energy in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, Mr Barnabas Magwende said less than 20 percent of the rural population had access to power.
“As the Ministry of Energy and Power Development our focus is promotion of renewable energy and access to modern power. We are aware that most of us in the rural areas don’t have access to power.
“Less than 20 percent of the people in the rural areas have access to power. About 60 percent of the country’s population does not have access to power.
“We welcome the contribution of all organisations to ensure communities have access to modern power. The Ministry is working hard to ensure all areas have access to power,” he said.
In a speech read on his behalf by Dr Sosten Zivuku who is Director of Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, Deputy Minister Magna Mudyiwa said Government through the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) had seen rapid expansion of the national grid to areas that were not connected.
“REA through different funding options and partners has also provided solar home systems to many rural communities around the country. More than 10 000 solar home systems have been installed country wide and 400 mini-grids have been set up at rural schools and clinics. A number of solar irrigation systems are dotted around the country, which have been set up by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
“The Rural Electrification Fund has also made significant strides in promoting alternative energy sources like biogas. Our goal isn’t just to extend the grid but also to ensure increased generation capacity of the country. The Ministry is dedicated to ensuring access to power supply for rural communities. It is our desire to realise 100 percent electrification in the country to ensure realisation of our vision 2030,” he said.
Dep Min Mudyiwa said in recent months the country had failed to realise the full generating capacity of Kariba power plant due to rapidly declining water levels of Kariba Dam. He said Government through REF was promoting clean sources of energy such as biogas in rural areas.
He said the Government through REF had also come up with the Rural Energy Master Plan which maps out the available alternatives to rapidly provide energy to communities that are yet to be connected to the grid. Dep Min Mudyiwa urged partners to continue investing in solar plants in various communities.
Speaking during the same event Matabeleland South Provincial Affairs Minister, Cde Abednico Ncube said the solar mini grid project will go a long way in bringing development to the province.
He said the province is a drought-prone area which is blessed with huge water bodies and solar energy and such projects would help turn Matabeleland South Province into a green belt through irrigation schemes.
Practical Action Southern Region director, Mr Kudzai Marovanidze said the solar mini grid will supply power to three irrigation schemes, Mashaba Clinic, Mashaba Primary School and Mashaba Business Centre.
He said in order to cater for areas that were not covered by the mini-grid they had set up energy kiosks.
Mr Marovanidze said Practical Action was committed to continue working with key players in the energy sector to promote and support wider access to clean energy by disadvantage communities. The project began in February 2015. — @DubeMatutu