Sometimes I just can’t resist…

Solar products still expensive despite duty waiver

Despite efforts by the government to remove import duties and increase access to renewables energy the cost of solar panels, batteries and other accessories have remained high. In some instances, even increasing, leaving many of the poor who would benefit the most without alternatives to the country’s main utility, Zesa. Unreliable supply and surging prices of Zesa power is driving consumers and businesses off the grid as renewable energy becomes a top priority.

To combat frequent load shedding people have resorted to renewable energy, namely solar, but most still cannot afford to buy them. A snap survey by The Herald showed that prices of most home solar systems have actually increased from $25000 (US$2500) to around $45000 (US$4500) or more for a full home solar system installation. As suppliers battle to meet demand, prices have shot up.

When Government removed duty on solar products last month, many thought it would bring down prices and make them widely accessible to the majority of the people in the country. Many people applauded the Government’s help. The Government removed duty on solar equipment to reduce dependence on the national grid as individuals and companies would now have alternatives. Zesa’s rolling blackouts have led to a huge spike in demand for solar panels and storage batteries, pushing up prices beyond the reach of many.

Blackout that now last up to 18 hours a day have attributed to a massive demand for solar products resulting in rampant profiteering by dealers. The lowest paid civil servant earning $665 and cannot afford to buy a solar systems. Even workers in the private sector are affected. Given the cost, the majority of the poor are now relying heavily on charcoal and wood fuel for cooking and heating, something which has led to massive deforestation across the country.

At press time, a solar system for an average size home, a 60 SL-SK 403, cost $999, while a 120 system SK-407 cost $1319. Solar powered lamps run from $89 to more than $500. A full featured solar system starts around $6999 and can top out at $45,000 depending on the brand and output. Consumers should get a professional to work out what their electricity consumption was, where they could reduce and what they needed. “This helps a lot and can save consumers money,” said a solar trader in Harare. With most prices being rated in US dollars – US$1 – $10, parallel market foreign currency rates have also made the situation worse. Analysts say the cost of putting solar systems in place in Zimbabwe still remains high, holding back expansion of the clean power source.

Another consequence, is the influx of inferior products.  “The market is awash with so many fake solar products,” said one Harare dealer. “These products often break down creating friction between buyers and suppliers. I’m not sure how the Government or the Standards Association of Zimbabwe can deal with this. People are being robbed and something must be done.” As a result people are finding other sources. ”I bought mine in South Africa for about US$1200. I have encouraged many to go there because local dealers are ripping us off.”

A Solar City Shop trader said importing solar equipment was still very expensive despite duty easement. “The equipment is generally heavy and this tends to push up freight charges. This forces us to increase prices too,” he said. “Only solar panels and batteries are duty free, BOS (balance of system – encompasses all the other components) still incur charges.”Removing duty has been a great step forward for the country but as dealers we have other cost – buying forex on the black market, bills, fuel and other overheads that we need to cover.”

Some people have resorted to importing solar products from South Africa and Botswana, where the prices are almost half of those being charged locally. “Demand for home solar systems in South Africa and Botswana is unprecedented. Many…are going there because its cheaper,” said a Harare-based banker. Manufacturing solar products locally could be one better way for Zimbabwe to cut down costs, create jobs and widen access to renewable energy.

Those wanting to take advantage of the duty abatement but still unable to afford a full system are instead opting for backup power storage; inverters and batteries. The batteries can be charged with Zesa power when there is electricity and then used to power some household appliances during the rolling blackouts. Energy experts say this means consumers will be using more Zesa power in order to charge their batteries. The average charged battery could give up to four hours supply depending on size and brand. “When there is load-shedding, you can use Zesa power stored in the battery to keep the lights on and the TV and Wi-Fi,” said Mavis Moyo of Greendale. “I use the batteries and inverter because I cannot afford solar panels.”

Competition and partial improvement of Zesa power supply may drive prices of solar products down over time. Mass migration into solar will reduce heavy reliance on Zesa giving the country a long-term sustainable solution to the power crisis. The Government has set a target to get at least 1575 megawatts of power from solar by 2030, about the same amount of electricity the country produces today from a range of sources. Renewable energy investors, however, say they would like to see even more change in Zimbabwe’s clean energy policies, such as more relaxed licensing rules for small producers.

This, they hope, could see a rapid adoption of renewable energy in the country. So Zimbabwe needs to refine its energy investment policies, explore ways to bring about competitive prices for solar products as well as invest more into research on solar innovation. Only through such strategies, can the country widen access to renewable energy to the majority of the people.

Disclaimer: I did not “write” this article, I came across it and just wanted to edit it. Thanks to the original site Bulawayo24.com and their staff reporter for their content.

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