Frequent Power Shortages Lead Zimbabweans to Seek Alternative Energy Sources

Zimbabwe's main power supplier generates just half of the national demand. Approximately 200,000 urban households do not have access to electricity, while others experience frequent outages. Engineer Jeremia Sundire has invented a new, affordable, easy-to-use alternative to address the growing need for reliable power.

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Frequent Power Shortages Lead Zimbabweans to Seek Alternative Energy Sources

Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ Zimbabwe

Nelson Chapungu fits components on an AC alternator, a part of a hydro-engine that contains turbines that produce electricity.

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HARARE, ZIMBABWE — A humming sound from a welding machine almost silences the chatter in this workshop in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. Jeremia Sundire’s colleagues try to listen to him as he demonstrates how his invention, a hydro-engine that functions like a generator, can bring electricity to homes across the city.

“All you need is water in two small tanks, and the water circulates through pressure,” Sundire, an engineer, says. He points to a box in the middle of the engine containing a turbine that he says generates up to 300 volts of electricity with the help of the water pressure.

Sundire began building his first hydro-engine in 2009 to address the unreliable power supply in the city. The process lasted three years because of testing and funding challenges, he says. But now, Sundire says his product is efficient and safe to use in homes.

Zimbabwe faces consistent power shortages because the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority, the country’s main power supplier, generates less than half of the national demand and continues to import power. As a result, some have turned to alternative sources of power. Sundire says his hydro-engine, which will be available for sale starting in April, is cheap, efficient and easy to use, but financial constraints limit production.

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Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ Zimbabwe

Jeremia Sundire shows some of the parts he uses to make his hydro-engine, that functions like a generator, at his workshop in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital.

In Zimbabwe, coal and water are primary sources of power. While up to 40 percent of electrical demand is driven by mining, dams such as the Kariba Dam Hydroelectric Power Station have an installed generation capacity of 750 megawatts.

But providing electrical power to the population remains a challenge. Climate change has contributed to a reduction in the dam’s water capacity, and other power plants across the country have exceeded their lifespan and regularly break down, according to a 2015 government report.

About 200,000 urban households in Zimbabwe do not have access to electricity, while others experience frequent interruptions to their electricity because of power shortages.

Zimbabwe’s power-generating capacity is 1,400 megawatts, but the projected national peak demand is 2,400 megawatts, according to the 2015 government report. This has forced Zimbabwe to import power from nearby countries including Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Mozambique, with net electricity imports totaling 1.1 billion kilowatt-hours in 2014, according to the Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme, a program that supports renewable-energy projects across Africa.

Some Zimbabweans use gas or generators powered by fuel in their homes when electricity is interrupted or unavailable. Rumbidzai Nhawu, who lives in Eastview, a newly developed residential area in Harare, says she spends about $30 each month on gas, which is the only source of energy in her home.

“It is expensive to use gas, but we do not have any alternatives, because we do not have electricity yet in our area,” she says.

The cost of running a generator that uses fuel can also be expensive, Sundire says. Sixty liters of fuel costs anywhere between $72 and $84, he says. But water is often cheaper, going for 40 cents per 1,000 liters in some parts of the country, according to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority. Sundire says his product only requires about 60 liters of water to produce electricity for up to two years, should there be no electrical supply in Zimbabwe.

Other costs for Sundire’s hydro-engine include $700 for purchase and installation, plus an annual $40 servicing fee, he says.

Sundire’s invention has the potential to benefit Zimbabweans who often experience infrequent power supply in their homes or rely on expensive alternatives, says Munyaradzi Mwoyoweshumba, who graduated from the National University of Science and Technology with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 2012.

Limited access to capital has prevented Sundire from manufacturing his product in bulk and selling it, he says.

Though Sundire patented the hydro-engine in 2013 and plans to sell the product through his registered company, Jerikash Global, he says small businesses like his struggle to secure funding from investors, as years of inflation in Zimbabwe have delayed growth among entrepreneurs. Sundire says he will begin manufacturing, selling and installing the hydro-engine in April by individual request.

Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.