Econet to invest more in alternative power

A Tesla Powerwall battery at an Econet site in Harare. Photographer: Cynthia R Matonhodze
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ECONET Wireless Zimbabwe (EWZ) says it will increase investment in alternative power solutions to ensure reliable network availability during periods of power outages.

In the trading update for the third quarter to November 2022, EWZ said it was implementing green energy initiatives complemented by continued investment in diesel engine generators to counter grid supply interruptions.

Growing its green energy footprint will also reduce energy costs while advancing the firm’s drive to attain carbon neutrality for its entire business and supply chains by 2030.

In its annual report last year, the mobile network operator hinted at installing solar power on about 500 base stations over the next two years to ensure energy security for its operations.

Last year alone the group installed over 100 solar base stations.

Zimbabwe faces power challenges as output at its key power stations is curtailed either due to old equipment or low water levels in Lake Kariba, which has negatively impacted on businesses, EWZ included.

This has also adversely impacted the quality of services offered.

In order to reduce the negative impact of the power deficit on operations, most telecommunication firms in the country have invested heavily in alternative sources of energy, mainly diesel.

“Due to the unreliable national power grid, the business continues to invest in alternative power solutions in a bid to ensure network availability.

“As green energy solutions such as solar and battery storage require significant foreign currency investment, the pace of investment has remained below desired levels, thereby impacting service quality.

“The business has also had to continue investing in diesel engine generators in the face of sharp declines in available grid power,” Charles Banda, EWZ company secretary, in a statement accompanying the firm’s trading update for the third quarter to November 2022.

Most base stations run on electricity but have lately grown to rely on diesel generators due to load-shedding making it hard to provide quality services.

Power outages and high fuel prices have resulted in companies losing revenue in real terms as working capital continues to grow ahead of income, leading to reduced network investment.

The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) has oftentimes bemoaned sustained load shedding saying it was exacerbating network challenges in the telecoms sector.

According to Potraz director general Dr Gift Machengete mobile network operators have been experiencing power outages for several hours per day.

“The increased power blackouts have posed a serious challenge to operational efficiencies, impacting the overall quality of service and raising the cost of service provision,” said Dr Machengete.

Despite challenges, EWZ revenue improved by 9 percent in the third quarter to November 2022, in inflation-adjusted terms, compared to the same period in the previous fiscal year.

Improvement in the company’s income was credited to volume growth in voice and data uptake, albeit tariffs which were overwhelmed by raging inflation in the period.

Voice and data volumes for the nine months to November 2022, grew by 32 percent and 46 percent respectively compared to the previous year notwithstanding challenges.

In the outlook, EWZ said it will be focusing on network maintenance, sustained innovation, and expansion to ensure the delivery of enhanced digital offerings to the clientele in line with evolving global trends.

“The Group will continue to pay attention to the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the current operating environment,” said Mr Banda.

The blackouts have also exacerbated the need for foreign currency by mobile network operators as it is the medium for exchange for diesel and procurement of spare parts. – Herald