Zimbabwe-based Southpole Consulting Private Limited has filed an authorization request with the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) for the construction of a 125 MW solar power plant in Victoria Falls.
According to information provided to pv magazine by the company, the project has primarily been conceived for self-consumption and, in particular, to supply power to the company’s data center and a commuter rail electrification project.
The facility may also sell power regionally through the grid to the local industrial district via private PPAs, since it will be located in the proximity (18 km) of the planned regional Zizabona inter-connector. The inter-connector aims to increase energy trade between Zimbabwe, Zambia, northern Malawi and north-eastern Mozambique, where the company forecasts substantial aligned investment.
A special purpose vehicle for the project, SouthPole StalwartBuild Zimbabwe PL, has already been approved for US$300 million of initial Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) investment by the Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA). The financing will be used for the construction of the plant, ICT, road and rail infrastructures within the Victoria Falls Special Economic Zone (SEZ).
Southpole said it aims to build the plant as an independent power producer, with no direct support from the government or other local public authorities. Construction on the plant, the company added, may begin in the second half of this year. “We are already in talks with module and inverter providers, as well as with potential EPC contractors,” company director, Tendai Tidings Musasa said.
According to Musasa, in addition to the aforementioned regional power inter-connectivity, the SEZ offers attractive tax incentives, which have enabled Southpole to attract international financing and technical partners.
The area – offering one of the highest solar irradiation indexes in a country with above average irradiation of 5.7kWh per square meter, per day – is poised to be a strong regional power interconnection platform, thanks to the upcoming 2,400 MW Batoka Gorge Hydro – Electric Scheme (HES) and a planned 1,250 MW PV development for regional consumption over the next seven years, the company said.
According to local newspaper, Chronicle, last year the ZERA issued licenses to nine IPP projects with a combined capacity of 260 MW, including six for solar power plants, two for mini-hydro projects, and one for a hybrid solar-diesel project.
Resorting to IPPs for renewable energy development can be viewed as a necessary move by the government, since it has failed to bring online several hundred MWs of solar capacity through different tenders, and through different policies that promote the adoption and wider use of renewable energy.
In 2014, Zimbabwe’s State Procurement Board (SBP) cancelled a tender for 300 MW of solar, after it judged the prices offered by the three selected developers as too high. Since then, several large-scale solar projects have been announced across the country, although no big solar park has been connected to the local grid to date.
The country, which has a remarkable level of solar irradiation at 20 MJ per square meter per day, is in urgent need of more power generation capacity, as it suffers from chronic energy shortages, due to the current poor conditions of the network.
According to a recent report from the Dutch government, just 21% of Zimbabwe’s rural areas have access to electricity, while this reaches 80% in urban areas. The country’s current total installed capacity is estimated at around 2 GW, of which 58% is thermal and 37% is hydropower.