Rural electrification hovers at around 21%.
Private investors are mostly not convinced that they can make a profit in the rural market where the buying power is small and credits are meager.
The Southern African nation’s grid is mostly dependent on power imported from South Africa. Which is reportedly cheaper than what is generated locally. Population growth and energy demand meet years of under-investment in infrastructure.
Solar products are duty-free. But Zimbabwean government didn’t think of offering such fiscal incentives as feed-in tariffs, tax rebates and renewable energy certificates.
Without clear tariff structures for grid-connected green projects conflict is likely between private players and the Zimbabwe Energy Supply Authority (ZESA), which owns the grid
So, perfect storm?
But where the wind is strong, you can put a wind mast. Or a solar panel.
In Tanzania civil society has taken a more practical
approach as the government lacks resources to invest in
large energy infrastructure in rural areas. Solar Sister entrepreneurs, local women from last-mile communities, invest in a stock of various solar and cooking products, that they then sell for a profit to their peers.
Only 36% of Tanzanians have access to electricity (21% in rural areas, similar to Zimbabwe).
Further north, Kenyan women — just like Zimbabwean ones — have problems in accessing financial support from micro-finance and banking organisations to create last mile energy solutions. Local banks have high interest loans: 15% to 25%. In 2016 civil society in the Eastern African nation launched a new project to support groups of female energy entrepreneurs to create ‘Village Savings and Loan Associations’, based on a traditional form of Kenyan village banking.
The Kenyan government’s VAT exemption applies to all solar PV equipment, including solar panels, batteries and controllers. Unlike Zimbabwe, Kenya has been offering a feed-in tariff scheme since 2012.
On average, in a day, a sq m of solar panel in Africa can generate 4 to 6 kW units of electricity — enough to power 400 to 600 10-watt light bulbs for one hour.
The fact that rural African consumers live far apart — plus their low buying power — makes the notion of setting up after-sales service centers in the distribution regions unviable.
Urban Africa may be different. Although we are far from critical mass there. Strathmore University in Nairobi became the first zero-carbon footprint university in Africa when they installed a 600 kW roof-mounted solar system.
Watch this video to hear more from solar entrepreneurs that made it in rural and per-urban Zimbabwe, as they employed local youths.