Photograph — DPA

In order to protect its network from Zimbabwe’s damaging power shortages, leading telecoms operator, Econet Wireless is looking to raise $60 million to base its infrastructure on renewable energy.

Last week, Econet’s service went down due to power shortage in what disrupted majority of local business transactions, leading to a public outcry. The massive impact of the technical glitch on commercial activities is as a result of the company’s dominance in the local financial system through its mobile transfer service, Ecocash.

In response to the incident, Econet aims to transform its system and is already scouring through global financial markets to secure the funds needed. But the company has not given a timeline as to when the transformation will be complete. “We require $60 million to upgrade our equipment and convert our sites to solar,” the company was quoted as saying by New Zimbabwe.

Econet also decried the telecommunications tariff regime in Zimbabwe while appearing to blame authorities for failing to appreciate the worsening economic situation in that regard.

“The cost of fuel has gone up 500 percent while the local currency has lost 900 percent in value to date. At the same time our voice tariffs have only increased by 33 percent,” the company said in an advertorial, adding that 1300 of its base stations run on generators for over 18 hours a day and consume two million litres of fuel every month. “We only receive 25 percent of this fuel due to the current shortages.”

Zimbabwe is experiencing a severe power crisis caused by drought-induced low water levels at the Kariba dam and outdated infrastructure at Hwange Power Station. The government has since turned attention to solar sources of power generation. 

Last Tuesday, the country’s Information Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, announced the removal of import duties on solar-energy-related products including batteries and cables. The government has also mandated that all new construction in the country include solar systems to deal with the power shortages, as repeated droughts impede hydropower generation.

For Econet, solar-powered infrastructure is a more reliable and cost-efficient alternative. Experts suggest that although “green” telecommunication towers have the same cost structure with ordinary ones in the first 3-5 years, this begins to differ beyond the period because of lower maintenance required by solar-powered towers.

Moreover, the cost of running green towers also lowers in time. This is because there is little or no need to continuously visit hard-to-reach and remote areas which with normal towers requires constant refilling of fuel, increasing operational costs.

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