The theme of the dialogue was “Is electrical energy slowing down industrial development?”
The answer is an obvious “yes”. So the rest of the discussion was on how this was affecting recovery and what needed to be done to correct the situation. In the same way as questions had been thrown at the Energy minister, solutions were also bandied around. All it took is for one to figure out which of the sometimes emotionally-charged statements and questions contained solutions.
But before we come to that, it was also surprising how under-represented industry was. Save for a few executives there was hardly anyone from industry. Most people were from the services sector, the financial sector in particular. One can surmise that the financial services sector wanted to hear from the horse’s mouth what really was going on in terms of energy provision.
One assumes bankers are being told day in and day out by industrialists that power outages are affecting production, hence they are not meeting their targets and therefore the companies are failing to pay back their loans.
Could their loans be extended? The bankers must have been surprised that the same manufacturers were not present to air their grievances directly to the minister concerned.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and one of the possible solutions that came out is that some firms could opt to run their operations after 9pm to dawn, when demand was at its lowest.
According to minister Mangoma, what they call base energy, which is electricity generated from coal-fired turbines such as those at Hwange, and whose generators cannot be just switched off at a whim, was not being used at all. He offered cheaper tariffs for companies that operated then: A possible solution.
The question is, as entrepreneurs, do our industrialists need to be told by a civil servant that this window of opportunity exists? Shouldn’t they already have seen this, started operating graveyard shifts and, in addition, ask for the reduced tariff they’re now being offered?
One observer pointed out that industry wastes about 20% of its electricity, which could total more than 200MW. One of the captains of industry did not take kindly to this assertion and was very defensive. Yet, if the merits of the statement were examined, therein lay another possible solution. Yet one of the most glaring examples of failing to tackle electricity challenges is the use of renewable energy, particularly solar energy. Again, this requires a new mindset.
Two decades ago, a leading Zimbabwean solar expert pointed out that 40% of electricity consumed in the country went towards water heating and this could be solved by using solar water heaters. He also pointed out that Zimbabwe lay on the optimum path of the solar belt and yet was not taking advantage of this. This was one of the reasons why the Solar Summit was held in this country.
And what of wind energy? When I was growing up, you could identify a farm by the existence of a rudimentary windmill, primarily to pump water. But apart from saving energy for pumping water by using this technology, modern methods can get this to also generate electricity