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Zimbabweans Look to Alternative Sources of Energy as Power Cuts Continue


Power outages - now a common feature during the winter in Zimbabwe when demand rises - have this year continued into the early summer. Zimbabweans are dealing with the disruptions by looking for alternative and reliable sources to keep the lights on.

For years now, Zimbabweans have had to deal with power cuts during the winter, as the country cannot meet demand from locally generated electricity. Also, the shortage of foreign currency means the country cannot import enough power to satisfy demand. This year, the power cuts have spilled into the summer.

For those with the money, generators have provided a solution. The downside is that the generators require fuel. And, fuel supplies in Zimbabwe have been erratic since 1999. When it is available, it is always very expensive. Others opt for solar panels, which are more expensive but - with sunshine in abundance - prove to be cheaper, in the long run.

Power units with batteries which are connected to the mains and charged when the power is on are increasingly proving to be very popular, although most of them can only provide power for smaller electrical appliances such as televisions, radio, computers and maybe a light or two.

Gas cookers have become an option for those who can afford them and the gas. But all these options are way beyond the reach of the urban poor, who resort to using candles for light and firewood for cooking because of a shortage of kerosene. A mother of three who lives in a Harare township that has gone without electricity for weeks told VOA that the price of firewood has risen sharply during the period. Speaking on condition of anonymity, she accused the firewood sellers of taking advantage of the situation. She added that sometimes she can only afford to cook once a day.

A Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority official told VOA the situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon. He says, although the country has the capacity to produce enough power for local consumption and export, it is currently generating less than half the potential, because of a variety of reasons. He cites the shortage of foreign currency as the main problem, effecting the ability to repair broken old machinery.

He also says a shortage of coal has led to some thermal power plants being closed. Although there is enough coal at the country's mines, he says a lack of equipment to extract it is forcing the mines to under produce. The official says there is no power being imported, because some of the countries from which Zimbabwe imports need all the power they produce.

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