Power shortages: Econet looks to solar for salvation

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By Anna Chibamu

TELECOMMUNICATIONS behemoth, Econet Wireless is scouring the global financial markets for US$60 million to transform its infrastructure and turn it into renewable energy complaint as it seeks to shield itself from Zimbabwe’s crippling power shortages.

A week ago, Econet’s system went down due to power shortage plunging the local financial system into chaos.

The technical glitch led to a public outcry, given its near monopoly in the local financial system through its mobile transfer system Ecocash. In an advertorial at the weekend, Econet did not give timelines as to when the transformation will be complete.

“We require $60 million to upgrade our equipment and convert our sites to solar,” the company said.

Econet seemed to blame authorities for failing to appreciate the deteriorating economic situation and factor this into the country’s telecommunications tariff regime.

“The cost of fuel has gone up 500% while the local currency has lost 900% in value to date. At the same time our voice tariffs have only increased by 33%.

“1300 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% of this fuel due to the current shortages,” said the advertorial.

“As we face these new adversities together, we ask that you stand with us as you have for over 20 years.”

Reports recently claimed GreenWish Partners, a renewable energy company run by an unnamed former Morgan Stanely banker is planning to invest US$800 million in solar powered telecommunications towers across Africa.

If this were to happen, the project could fuel economic growth by providing power for essential services. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest rates of energy access in the world and is home to about half of the world’s 1.2 billion people without access to reliable energy sources.

Zimbabwe is facing its greatest power crisis exacerbated by drought induced low water levels at Kariba and dilapidated infrastructure at Hwange Power Station.

State power supplier Zesa is riddled with corruption amid revelations by the Auditor General that it paid US$10 million a decade ago for transformers to a shadowy company that never delivered.

According to experts green telecommunication towers as they have become known, have the same cost structure with ordinary ones in the first 3-5 years but this begins to differ beyond the period because of lower maintenance required by solar powered towers.

It has also been argued that the cost of running green towers also lowers in time because there is little need to continuously visit even hard to reach areas which with normal towers requires constant replenishment of fuel adding more costs.