Migration to solar costs Econet US$60m

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ECONET Wireless Zimbabwe says it requires more than US$60 million to upgrade its equipment and convert all its sites to solar power.

The move to embrace solar energy comes on the back of crippling power cuts, which have dampened operational efficiency for many businesses.

“We require over US$60 million to upgrade equipment and convert our sites to solar,” the listed telecoms giant posted on its official Twitter handle yesterday.

Recently, Econet services went down for hours after power cuts affected its network operations centre in Harare. This led to a series of irregular services on voice, data, SMS and Ecocash platforms for most parts of the day, which greatly inconvenienced customers.

Econet said: “1 300 of our base stations run on generators for over 18 hours a day and consume 2 million litres of fuel every month. We only receive 25 percent of this fuel due to the current shortages.”

The telecoms giant has said fuel price increases and the local currency devaluation against the US dollar, have constrained the company’s viability.

The power outages have forced many businesses to resort to using generators, which means additional cost and at times compromises the quality service delivery.

Zesa, according to recent reports need to adhere strictly to a tight prescribed water ration that allows it to generate an average of 358 megawatts at Kariba to avoid depleting Lake Kariba following revelations the reservoir is left with only 24 percent of water usable for power generation.

The situation is critical and Zesa needs to strike a power import deal with South Africa’s Eskom by September to avoid tipping over an already precarious power situation in the country. This is because demand for power in Zimbabwe, at peak periods, stands at an average 1 800 megawatts, but the country’s internal capacity can only manage a maximum 800-900MW at best due to antiquated equipment and effects of drought, which have decimated generation at Kariba South.

Zesa acting chief executive officer Mr Patrick Chivaura, told our sister paper Sunday Mail Business last week that Zesa was producing power at levels prescribed by the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), which administers the river, to conserve water until flows rise next season.

Lake Kariba has a maximum holding level of 485 metres and minimum level of 475 metres, which is the minimum water level for purposes of power generation, known as live water.

Below 475 metres the water in the Kariba Dam may only be used for recreation and fishing.

Continuing to drain the lake by generating power poses the risk of depleting the reservoir and jeopardising chances of getting power from its next season as it would take long to fill up.

Zimbabwe is facing a power crisis and there seems to be light on the horizon after Government in April started work on Hwange stages 7 and 8, which are expected to take at least 42 months to complete and will add 600MW to the national grid.

Further, Zimbabwe and Zambia are jointly working to develop a massive hydro power, Batoka Gorge, which will also take almost similar length of time for its construction to be completed and will bring 2 800MW to be shared between the two countries.

US electrical systems giant, General Electric (GE) and Power Construction Corporation of China (China Power) were recently selected by Zimbabwe and Zambia to undertake construction of the power plant.

The Government has also issued more than 40 independent power producer’s licences, including a 2 700MW initiative in Gokwe North by Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed RioZim, which are at various stages of development.–hera;d.co.zw

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