A youth-led cooperative in Zimbabwe is trying to make affordable, smart solar energy a reality for marginalised communities.
In 2020 the Young People’s Multi-purpose Cooperative Society (YPMCS) was selected as one of the nine projects to receive mentorship and funding and mentorship from the ICA Youth Network.
Its solar project aims to be an alternative to hydro-electricity, which is not well supplied in all the provinces of Zimbabwe. Outages are also common in the country due to depressed generation on the grid, droughts that reduce dam levels and breakdowns of coal-fired generators.
The cooperative, which has 35 members, targets marginalised communities, slums and rural areas that are most affected by the hydro-electricity supply crisis.
With over 7.5 hours of sunlight a day, Zimbabwe has great potential for solar energy, something YPMCS hopes to make the most of. There are also government incentives. Since 2019, all new housing units have been required to install solar geysers as part of the country’s National Renewable Energy Policy. Furthermore, the government has set the target of installing at least 250,000 solar water heaters in old and new buildings by 2030. To support the sector, the government has also removed import duties on solar-energy related products.
The youth behind the project received training from the Ministry of Women Affairs, Small To Medium Enterprises and Cooperative Development. As part of its work, the cooperative installed solar powered water pumps to 1,000 households in Epworth. As a result, the women have access to clean water and farmers can irrigate their crops.
YPMCS is working with the Zimbabwe National Association of Housing Cooperatives (ZINAHCO) to install solar panels on the latter’s existing and future housing stock. By providing solar energy for other housing projects, YPMCS hopes to grow its membership base, create employment for youth from different sectors of the economy and promote cooperatives.
The Youth Replication project gave the young people behind the cooperative financial support, mentorship and training in project development, project management and project and grant applications.
The cooperative has installed many panels for domestic and industrial use. Seven of its members were certified as Solar System Designers and Installers by Harare Institute of Technology,, while the rest of the members were equipped with basic solar installation skills. In partnership with Junior Achievement Zimbabwe and PROWEB, the cooperative is also delivering a solar installation training programme for marginalised communities.
One of the cooperative’s priorities is obtaining a licence to own a solar farm, which has so far been a challenge due to limited funding.
“We are working on it, looking for various strategies to increase our funds such as partnerships with banks and microfinancing companies,” says member Wisdom Nyama, adding that the cooperative is also looking to implement a salary deduction scheme to support the project.
“We believe in the sustainability and scalability of our project,” he says. Therefore, we are taking necessary steps to sustain ourselves by doing joint ventures with banks and becoming Merchants for Micro Financing Companies so that they give people loans to come and buy from us. We are designing a project called Power Hubs whereby we want to come up with work Stations and Information Centers in marginalised communities, which are solar powered.”
He adds that the Replication Project had a very positive impact in Zimbabwe and the cooperative is looking forward to making international connections, particularly with institutions active in the renewable energy sector or funding renewable energy projects.