CONSTRUCTION of the 100MW Victoria Falls-Chidobe Solar Plant outside the resort city has started taking shape, with contractors saying over 9 000 solar panels have been installed and are ready to generate the first 5MW of power from next month.
Independent power producer, Power Ventures (Private) Limited, a subsidiary of Southern
Energy, applied and got a licence to establish a 100MW solar energy plant in BH114, about 3km from Lupinyu near the Victoria Falls International Airport in Hwange District, Matabeleland North province.
The project is being implemented in four phases of 25MW each.
Construction of the first phase, estimated at US$31 million, is underway and expected to be completed before year end.
The project is expected to take 100ha around BH114 and Mispah, and the first 20ha have been cleared and over 9 000 solar panels installed, which will churn out 5MW.
Project operators said the 5MW plant is 90 percent complete.
The massive project is envisaged to be one of the largest solar parks in Zimbabwe, adding to a list of capital projects underway in Matabeleland North.
It is expected to become a game-changer for the province’s energy sector and comes as Zimbabwe targets to add more than 2 000MW to the national grid from solar, wind and other sources by 2030.
The project started about three years ago and the first phase was supposed to be completed in
December last year, but was stalled following the outbreak of Covid-19 coupled with challenges revolving around access to foreign currency to import equipment.
Yellow River, a Chinese company contracted by Sino Hydro to do civil works and construct the plant, has resumed work to clear more land at the site and install more solar panels.
A visit to the site yesterday revealed that land clearing is underway, to open more land on the targeted 100ha stretch south of the first 20ha, where over 9 000 solar panels have been installed.
About 20 locals have been employed as general hands to clear the land and do other work.
Inverters and transformers have been installed and the contractors are waiting for more equipment that includes the main transformer, which is already in Harare after it was delivered from China.
Power Ventures project manager Mr Sam Mabvira said the main transformer is expected anytime from now to pave way for the final connection.
“The first 5MW is almost complete and should connect to the grid in the next three months. We are 90 percent complete for the initial 5MW and forex permitting, we plan to complete the
25MW in the fourth quarter of 2023,” he said.
Mr Mabvira said access to foreign currency was the biggest challenge being faced by the project and appealed to the Government to assist.
Power Ventures management is on record as saying it was pushing on to cover lost time towards playing a role in providing cleaner energy to the national grid.
Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Richard Moyo said independent power producers will help mitigate the current energy challenges.
“We all know that the country has challenges with electricity so these solar projects will help mitigate the problem. 100 MW is not a joke, it’s a big project and load shedding will be a thing of the past,” he said.
“With the Zimbabwe Power Company’s Hwange Unit 7 and 8 Expansion project coming up, it means we will have 700MW going into the grid from the province, and so that is a lot and we are proud of it.”
The solar project is expected to play a key role as nearby boreholes will be connected with solar pumps while shops and communities will also have access to electricity.
Matabeleland North is endowed with vast natural resources including coal, gold and solar capacity among others whose extraction will catapult the province to development.
Clean energy is one of the priority areas for the National Development Strategy (NDS1), the others being food security, environmental protection, climate resilience and natural resources management, all targeted towards Vision 2030, which is aimed at transforming the country into an upper middle-income economy.
Zimbabwe is boosting solar power and to lesser extent hydropower, as part of a Government strategy to reduce energy-related emissions by about a third by the end of 2030.