In 2020, following some pilot projects, Zimbabwe’s electric utility company ZETDC started its net metering program. Zimbabwe’s net metering regulations say anyone who has a renewable energy source, e.g. wind or solar, and has a grid-tied inverter can apply for net-metering.
At the time they were introduced, the threshold to apply for net metering was capped at just 100 kW. So, if you have a warehouse with loads of rooftop space but you don’t consume much, you won’t have any incentive to oversize your solar and put a 1 MW solar plant on your roof. This was actually a lost opportunity, as many businesses in the agricultural processing industries have low demand seasons where they could export a lot more electricity during those times helping reduce power imports. Schools and university campuses could also feed in more during the holidays and weekends. Although Zimbabwe is late to the party, net metering is certainly a welcome development and it will help improve the solar business case for many industries and homes, catalyzing the adoption of solar.
Zimbabwe’s energy regulator, ZERA, gave an update on the connections so far. The total number was 81 connections as of 31 December 2021, out of a total number of 109 applications that were received, with the remainder still being processed. The connected installed capacity stood at 2.1 MW, while the total capacity for all the applications received was about 4 MW. The program slowed down a bit following concerns from ZETDC on the compensation factor and several other reasons. The net metering framework had set a compensation factor of 0.9. It meant that for every kWh customers fed in to the grid, they would be credited 0.9 kWh.
The net metering regulations have been updated and now this compensation factor will look like this:
- The compensation factor is proposed to be reduced from 0.9 to 0.8 for domestic customers and 0.85 for Maximum Demand customers/Time of use customers. This provides for the utility network use charges.
- The accrued energy credits to be rolled over only for a period to be determined by the Authority from time to time, as opposed to perpetual rollover.
Following intensive lobbying by representatives from independent power producers, players in the C&I sector, as well as customers, the threshold to apply for net metering has now been raised from a paltry 100 kW per site a significant 5 MW per site. This should encourage more consumers with space to accommodate up to 5 MW on their roofs, carports, or ground mounted systems to go solar. Let’s hope we start seeing more firms adding solar PV.
A big problem at the moment, however, is the current electricity generation constraints the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) is facing. Zimbabwe Power Company is the national electricity generating company. Today, ZPC’s dashboard showed that the total generation from all its power plants was 579 MW of electricity, out of an installed capacity of over 2200 MW. Kariba Hydro was limited to 214 MW (out of 1050 MW) and Hwange coal power plant was doing about 365 MW (out of 920 MW). The small thermals at Harare, Munyati, and Bulawayo were all not generating anything. Yes, a grand total of 0 MW out of a possible 260 MW or so. Generation at Kariba Dam has been curtailed due to drought-induced low water levels. ZPC’s aging coal power plants are struggling at the moment due to frequent breakdowns, and therefore ZETDC has been forced to implement severe load-shedding. Most Zimbabweans now only get electricity between midnight & 4 AM. Zimbabwe is trying get more imports from its neighbors, but generation in the region is also constrained.
ZPC is set to commission two new 300 MW coal power plants, adding 600 MW to its fleet. Zimbabwe’s energy regulator really wants to see more players in the energy sector, especially those in the renewable sector in line with its mandate which includes energy efficiency and environmental protection. ZPC really needs to get its generation capacity back to optimal levels to reduce load-shedding and therefore facilitate the participation of more players in the net metering program.
Image: A ground mount solar PV plant in Zimbabwe. Courtesy of Caledonia, Blanket Mine