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Renewable Energy Technologies in Zimbabwe


Maxwell C. Mapako


Zimbabwe has a population of 11.63 million. Nearly 35% of the population is in urban areas. Therefore, a significant portion of the population (nearly 65%) resides in the rural areas. Wood is the main cooking fuel in rural areas while electricity and paraffin are the main cooking fuels in urban households. A large portion (84%) of urban households are grid-electrified while 7% of rural households are grid-electrified. 

Zimbabwe has had nearly 20 years experience in dissemination of renewable energy technologies (RETs). However, wide scale dissemination of RETs has not yet been achieved. This report attempts to show why many known barriers have not been addressed, and the actual and/or potential impact of rural energy and renewables on income-generating business opportunities. This analysis is undertaken based on the following three hypotheses:

  1. Decentralised, private sector energy production and distribution have a better rate of success that centralised public sector initiatives in delivering modern energy to rural households and for income-generating activities.

  2. Income-generating activities have greater impact than domestic use in promoting the delivery of modern energy to rural areas.

  3. Of all existing and possible components for the promotion of Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs) geared to income-generating activities in rural areas, some are far more critical than others and therefore need priority attention and action.

Under the first hypothesis the analysis focuses on identifying components that are crucial in determining the outcome of rural energy initiatives. A list of rural energy initiatives (both RETs and non-RETs) were examined and factors that seemed to have been decisive in influencing the outcome of each initiative were isolated. The study proposes the following recommendations pertaining to the first hypothesis:

  • A combination of Government demonstration, initiatives and private sector dissemination has worked well in the dissemination of new modern sources.

  • Policy needs to be sensitive to the needs of smaller income-generating activities which tend to be owned by the rural poor and are often home based.

  • Building local design and maintenance capacity is a more important need than the dissemination of new solar home systems (SHS).

Under the second hypothesis, the analysis compared traditional versus modern energy use in rural areas. The differences in energy use intensities were considered and the relative success rates of modern energy initiatives targeting domestic and income-generating activity end uses compared. The key recommendations pertaining to the second hypothesis include:

  • Modern energy initiatives in rural areas should be biased towards income-generation, and should cover a range that encompasses the needs of micro enterprises.

  • The promotion and dissemination of modern energy services should include successful support delivery to income-generating activities.

Under the third hypothesis, the analysis focused on attempts at isolating components that were crucial to the success of past modern energy initiatives. The analysis proposed the following recommendations:

  • There is need to maintain clarity on the roles of government departments and other stakeholders.

  • Appropriate financing mechanisms for rural electrification programmes should be instituted.

  • Government should ensure the inclusion of maintenance processes in new projects requiring state funding or approval.

The recommendations from the study are feasible and can be implemented with minimum challenges. However, due to the prevailing economic and political conditions in Zimbabwe, recommendations that require government financial support may not be viable. Therefore those recommendations that do not require government funding are the most promising.

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