Zimbabwe is on a mission to increase renewable energy to reduce expensive imports and combat climate change. Many Zimbabwean households have found the most recent winter to be challenging, with some experiencing extended power outages. Many people have turned to the use of solar energy to mitigate the consequences of load shedding.
Due to the constant presence of the African sun, Africa has the largest potential for solar energy production when compared to other continents, making today the ideal time for Zimbabweans to transition to solar power. A regulation prohibiting the installation of electric heaters in buildings was passed in 2019; this forced people to install rooftop solar water heaters as an alternative, which has now become commonplace in many Zimbabwean households.
According to its president, Zimbabwe has an installed electric capacity of roughly 2,000 megawatts (MW), with the Kariba hydropower plant producing more than half of that electricity. The majority of the rest of the nation's electricity is produced by coal facilities and imported energy from South Africa and Mozambique, with coal capacity expanding.
The government has pledged to reduce its energy-related emissions by around a third by 2030, primarily by increasing investment in hydropower and solar power. However, renewable power also has a role to play. According to the nation's 2019 renewable energy policy, it has set a goal to produce at least 2,100 MW of clean energy by the end of the decade, of which 75% would come from solar. Projects connected to solar energy are no longer subject to import taxes.
Energy experts and builders caution that the cost of installing such systems is a barrier to their adoption, despite Zimbabwe's push to increase solar power to reduce electricity import costs and address climate change.
On the other hand, the government "was providing guidance" on the virtues of solar panels' cost-saving potential but is not providing funding for homeowners to install them. Advice only has so much power. Gloria Magombo, Zimbabwe's Secretary for Energy, stated that the country was considering both a program where banks would lend money to install solar panels and subsidies for new housing developments that do so. The granting of loans by banks to consumers for the purchase of solar panels may be elusive due to the lack of suitable credit facilities and reliable collateral assets.
In Zimbabwe, the majority of brand-new home developments use solar water heaters as part of the push to integrate more solar into the national grid. By 2030, the country aims to have at least 250,000 solar water heaters installed in both new and old construction. The government claimed it lacked information on how many were in operation at the time.
The 2019 law prohibits the grid connection of new structures without solar water heaters, and violators risk a fine and up to a year in jail. The official stated that the technology should ultimately result in a 20–40% reduction in residential energy use. The government also announced that it is putting into place a net metering scheme, which will allow homeowners with rooftop solar panels to sell any extra energy they produce to the national grid.
Although the use of solar energy sometimes comes as an additional cost to buyers at a time when housing costs were already on the rise, the longer-term advantages of the technology are larger. The expense is largest during the implementation phase, but there is a lifelong advantage after that.
The government is emphasizing the need for renewable energy and thermal solar water heaters in houses and buildings since Zimbabwe's system is struggling to keep up with the rising electricity demand, including the addition of new housing developments. Due to a severe drought that reduced the dam levels at its main hydropower plant and malfunctions of coal-fired generators, Zimbabwe has previously experienced significant energy blackouts, known locally as load shedding, that can last up to 18 hours.
Zimbabwe's state-owned power company issued a warning at the beginning of 2022 that there will be more blackouts due to increased demand for electricity and import limitations, particularly during the winter. The average solar energy potential worldwide has recently been revealed by the World Bank, with Africa leading the way. The term "good circumstances for solar electricity" is used to denote long-term output that exceeds 4.5kWh/kWp per day. 4.51 kWh/kWp/day is the average long-term practical yield of utility-scale solar energy installations in Africa. The untapped solar energy potential in Africa represents an opportunity to provide affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy to its people.
The World Bank's Global Solar Atlas data, as assessed by Statista, reveals the average potential for solar energy worldwide. As this infographic demonstrates, Africa is far ahead of the pack. Africa has a utility-scale solar energy installation with an average long-term practical yield of 4.51 kWh/kWp/day, which is higher than Central & South America's average long-term practical yield of 4.48 and is behind North America's average long-term practical yield of 4.37.
The evaluations "exclude areas due to physical/technical constraints, such as rugged terrain, the presence of urbanized/industrial areas, forests, and areas that are too distant from the centres of human activity," but they do not take into account "soft constraints, i.e., areas that might be unsuitable due to regulations imposed by national or regional authorities (such as the conservation of cropland or nature conservation)".
To put the statistics into perspective, nearly 20% of the world's population resides in 70 nations that have "excellent conditions" for solar energy, which are defined as long-term output surpassing 4.5 kWh/kWp per day. Only the African nations as a whole average above this limit on a global level. Even though there is still a lot of untapped solar energy potential in Africa's less developed nations, this potential offers "a unique opportunity to provide affordable, reliable, and sustainable electricity services to a large portion of humanity where improved economic opportunities and quality of life are most needed," according to the source.