Intratrek, Chint’s $750m solar farm for Byo

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HARARE – Asian energy giant Chint Electric Company Limited (Chint) — through its local partner Intratrek Zimbabwe (Intratrek) — is keen on building solar farms worth $750 million in southern Zimbabwe, businessdaily can reveal.

This also comes as the country has been experiencing serious power outages, in a development that has hobbled industries and the real prospects of economic recovery.

Wicknell Chivayo, Intratrek’s managing director, yesterday confirmed the development and said their consortium was hoping to contribute to Zimbabwe’s economic recovery by providing solutions to alleviate the current power shortages.

“Our vision and efforts are in line with the newly-unveiled economic blueprint, which seeks to build capacity for our industries and society as a whole,” he said.

“These projects also dovetail with our democratically-elected leadership’s vision to empower and strengthen our great country through such benefits as employment,” Chivayo said, adding “more companies must come on board and take on ventures that support the new government’s efforts”.

To this end, Intratrek and its partners have applied for a 300-hectare piece of land in Gwanda where the massive 100 to 300 megawatt (MW) plant would be built.

According to an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) report seen by this paper, Chint will not only provide capital to the tune of $250 million for the first phase 100 MW project, but also deliver the turnkey project in nine to 12 months.

The group will operate as an independent power producer.

Under the project, the Shanghai-based behemoth — with assets worth over $30 billion — will help raise capital at a concessionary six percent interest per annum over a 12-year period.

According to the agreements, Chint will take a 15 percent stake in the venture, while locals will retain a majority.

As things stand, a group of banks, including the China Export and Import Bank, HSBC and the United Overseas Bank of Singapore, are reportedly keen to syndicate loans of up to $750 million to fund the projects.

With applications before a number of regulatory authorities, including Dzikamai Mavhaire’s Energy ministry — the parties are also hoping to tap into the hot southern Matabeleland sun and weather patterns, where scientific studies have proven good solar radiation conditions.

According to the same EPC document, the structure would see solar panels mounted on the ground with modular inverters setup to power generators, which would then transmit energy to the national grid in Bulawayo and such power would also feed Gwanda, and Masvingo.

All equipment is also to be sourced from China and the plant has a 50-year life span.

On a reliable international technology — with a 25-year guarantee — it costs nearly $2,5 million to produce one megawatt of solar power, a capacity which the Asian company has.

While the erection of the various solar plants is expected to plug continued imports — and in the process save the country millions in hard cash — the Intratrek consortium says a good 10 MW “can be connected to the national grid almost instantly and approximately six weeks after commencement of the construction phase.”

“It will improve the capacity of Bulawayo-based industries to operate optimally (and) the city can be repositioned as Zimbabwe’s industrial hub, thereby creating employment, disposable incomes and arresting other social ills,” a project document said.

As Beijing’s fourth largest private enterprise, Chint is a market leader in electric voltage distribution products that are also present in over 110 countries.

Last year, the 29-year-old company had revenues of nearly $5 billion and has a 40 percent share of the domestic Chinese market.

Globally, the Asian company also employees 29 000-plus people.

By tapping into this renewable and smart energy market, analysts contend that Zimbabwe would be able to plug the skills gap between it and its partners, and which strategies can make the country the solar hub of the region.

With a national energy demand of 2 200 MW, Zimbabwe has been limping struggling as aggregate output has always been hovering around 1 000MW.

The development also comes as stakeholders have agreed to set up a fund to finance renewable energy projects, with Solar Energy Industry Association chairman Chamu Muchenje, saying:

“We are in a crisis but we are not taking it seriously, the energy policy has been put in place but it is almost a year now without any signs of implementation taking place. We have 72 firms currently operating but some of the projects require funding, so the setting up of energy fund will be critical,” he said.

The Intratrek-Chint project also comes as deputy Foreign Affairs minister Chris Mutsvangwa has said Zimbabwean firms must harness Chinese capital, as it has given the country more trade options.

Addressing a Forum on China-Africa Co-operation symposium, the ex-diplomat also said Beijing was willing to pump more than $20 billion on the continent – just as it has emerged as Africa's biggest funder with nearly $3 billion in foreign direct investments.

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