Advantage - Zimbabwe eyes more solar water heaters as power grid struggles

Advantage – Zimbabwe eyes more solar water heaters as power grid struggles

* Rooftop solar water heaters are now in demand in new homes. * Power failure leads to the search for energy saving

* Initial costs are a hindrance but heaters are cheaper in the long run By Lungelo Ndhlovu

People in Zimbabwe are used to taking cold showers during prolonged power outages, but Cosmas Ndlovu’s new home means his family is among the lucky few who can enjoy hot water at all times. When the 48-year-old built his home in the South African country three years ago, he had to include a rooftop solar water heater to comply with a 2019 law banning the installation of electric heaters in buildings.

While the father-of-five said the 150-liter heater – which absorbs heat directly from the sun to heat water – is expensive, at around $410, he thinks it has proven a worthwhile investment. “Once the water is heated in the solar heater, it takes two days before it cools,” Ndlovu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at his home in western Pelandaba, a newly built suburb that has not been connected to the grid.

“The warm water never runs out. I can have a hot bath even in the middle of the night,” added Ndlovu, who also installed three solar panels to power the lights, TV, stove, and refrigerator. As Zimbabwe’s grid struggles with increasing demand for electricity, including with the addition of new housing projects, the government is emphasizing the need for renewable energy and solar thermal water heaters in homes and buildings.

Zimbabwe has in the past suffered severe blackouts – known locally as load shedding – that lasted for up to 18 hours as a result of low dam levels at its main hydropower plant and a breakdown of coal-fired generators. As Zimbabwe seeks to boost solar power – to cut electricity import costs and combat climate change – renewable energy suppliers, energy experts and builders warn that the cost of putting in place such systems is a barrier to their use.

Lawrence Mashongo, a climate change expert at the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, said the government is not offering people money to install solar heaters, but is “advising” on the cost-saving advantages. However, Zimbabwe’s energy minister, Gloria Magumbu, said the government was considering subsidies for new residential developments that rely on solar water heaters, as well as a program that would allow banks to provide loans for their installation.

“Already, most of the new housing projects have adopted solar water heaters, which is very positive,” she said in an interview. The country aims to install at least 250,000 solar water heaters in old and new buildings by 2030. The government said it had no data on how many water heaters there were currently.

Under the 2019 law, new buildings without solar water heaters cannot be connected to the grid, and violators can face a fine of up to a year in prison. Cutting costs

Zimbabwe has an installed electric capacity of about 2,000 megawatts, with the Kariba Hydroelectric Dam producing more than half of that energy, according to its chief. Coal and power plants imported from Mozambique and South Africa provide much of the rest of the country’s electricity, with coal capacity increasing.

But renewable energy also has a role to play, with the government pledging to cut its energy-related emissions by about a third by 2030, mainly by boosting investment in hydropower and solar power. It has set a target to generate at least 2,100 megawatts of clean energy by the end of the decade, of which 75% will come from solar, according to the country’s 2019 renewable energy policy.

Import duties have been eliminated from projects related to solar energy, while Magumbu said the government is subsidizing the local manufacture of water heaters that absorb heat on the roofs and enhance their benefits. The official eventually added that the use of the technology would reduce household energy consumption by 20-40%.

The government also said last month it was implementing a net metering system, where people whose homes have rooftop solar panels can sell their excess energy to the national grid. Abby Cambridge, CEO of Sun Exchange, a South African renewable energy startup operating in the region, said solar water heaters, such as rooftop panel systems, can dramatically reduce electricity costs and transform lives.

“For underserved communities that had no prior access to warm water except by heating water in pots, this technology will change their lives,” he said. Hawkflight Construction, a Bulawayo-based company, said solar water heaters were an extra cost to buyers at a time when the cost of building homes was already rising — but stressed the long-term benefits of the technology.

“[There is]a cost only in the implementation phase, but then it will be a lifelong benefit,” said Martin Moyo, Land Development and Construction Operations Manager at Land Development and Construction Company. “[There is]a cost that is not in the hands of the government. Paying for the $400 heater, she was instead paying for it in monthly installments.

But the 39-year-old said her family has since saved about $20 a month as they no longer have to pay for gas cylinders to heat water. In mid-July, Zimbabwe’s state-owned Electricity Corporation warned of increased blackouts due to high demand for electricity and import restrictions.

But the power outages do not concern the Ndlovu family. “My family doesn’t know what load separation is because my whole house is connected to a powerful solar system that powers the fridge, TV and stove,” he said.

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(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse staff and is automatically generated from a shared feed.)

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