As the biting energy crisis continue to wreak havoc in Zimbabwe, telcos have hit the SOS button significantly disturbing business, with the ICT minister finally making public statements over the issue.
In a response to media, ICT Postal and Courier Services minister Hon Kazembe Kazembe said the government is engaging mobile operators to install solar units at base stations, following the recent disruptions to networks because of the ongoing power crisis, NewsDay has reported.
“We are recommending that the operators install solar for their base stations. I’m aware that some of Econet’s base stations are already on solar, and I’m also aware that NetOne is considering going the same route. Energy is crosscutting and it affects all sectors. That’s why the line ministry is working tirelessly to try and address the situation,” ICT and Courier Services Minister Kazembe Kazembe said.
“As a ministry, we just recommend or rather insist, but the onus is on the service providers to roll out the program. We are engaging the operators to see how best this can be done. As government, we are looking at incentives on the imports of solar equipment and the ministries of Energy and Finance are seized with this matter.”
Kazembe said his ministry would be looking at giving incentives to telecom firms who import solar units.
“Government is looking at ways of making it easy and cheaper to import solar equipment by revisiting duties and taxes, with a view of either reducing them or removing them completely. The actual investment on the solar equipment for base stations is for the service providers because base stations are owned by the operators themselves,” he said.
But Kazembe added that it would be “a decision that the operators will make”.
“In fact, it’s the new normal that base stations are now solar-powered. The new RuralStar base station is solar-powered,” he said.
However, according to a well-placed source within the industry, such an undertaking would not be feasible in the long run.
The source the main huddle would be the huge expenses in setting up the solar units, as operators are not yet allowed to increase tariffs even after the re-introduction of the Zimdollar.
“I know that for us to run solar everywhere, the cost of lithium batteries, which are not manufactured in Zimbabwe, is very high for the units to be able to
run during peak hours and that kind of thing, so it is not possible. It may be possible in the long run, say in the next five years or whatever. Maybe in the
next two years, if the forex is available to bring in these batteries by the bucketful and then fit them on the sites, then maybe,” he said.
“But one of the challenges being experienced is forex. Remember, mobile operators are still struggling to pay for licensing fees. Already, we are not prioritised when it comes to buying forex and our revenue is in Zimdollars, which is losing value. So, that is one of the biggest issues.”
Zimbabwe is only generating half of its peak demand of 1 800Mw.
According to sources from the energy industry, the country has the potential to generate in excess of 600Mw from solar.