Zimbabwean authorities are considering a proposal made by the China Energy Engineering Corporation (China Energy) for a 1 000-megawatt floating solar farm on the southern African country’s largest water body, Lake Kariba.
The nearly $1 billion project would ease the immense pressure on Zimbabwe’s energy grid which currently fails to meet even 50% of the population’s electricity demand.
The proposal, between China Energy, the state-owned Zimbabwe Power Company and a consortium of private investors, would see an array of a staggering 1.8 million solar panels installed on the lake top at an initial cost of $987 million, according to documents verified by Reuters.
Zimbabwe’s aging coal-fired and hydroelectric facilities have failed to match the country’s annual energy requirements of 1 700 megawatts for several years running.
Old infrastructure, coupled with inconsistent water levels due to drought, has seen the country’s chief energy generator, the 1 050-megawatt hydro plant at Kariba, rarely able to operate at capacity.
Both rural and urban residents of the country are routinely left without electricity for 12-hour stretches.
The project scope includes planning, design, procurement, construction and commissioning of the 1 000 megawatt environmentally friendly facility.
China Energy will also be responsible for the installation of a transmission line from the primary booster station to the plant’s substation, as per a report from Reuters.
Floating solar farms have become increasingly popular in recent years as developers don’t have to compete for limited space with other potential interests.
The vast area of shade cast by millions of solar panels has the dual effect of reducing evaporation of the reservoir and keeping water levels sufficiently high for both the lake’s aquatic residents and the hydroelectric facilities.
Chinese construction and engineering firms are well-practiced in their construction too, having built similar solar arrays in the Shandong Province and Thailand.
The 320-megawatt Dezhou facility in Shandong made it the world’s largest floating solar battery, but would be dwarfed by the Kariba plant by nearly 300%, if China Energy and the Zimbabwe Power Company reach an accord.
Zimbabwe began producing electricity from its newly completed Hwange coal-fired plant in March 2023.
Although the Chinese-built facility will go some way to resolving the impoverished African nation’s crippling energy crisis, the ruling party has committed to transitioning to a more renewables-based energy mix in the long term.
In December last year, Zimbabwean officials unveiled incentives intended to bring 1 100 megawatt of solar energy infrastructure projects on stream by 2025.