Renewable Energy Options for Zimbabwe: A Geomatics MSc student’s pursuit of the SDG’s

18 Nov 2021 - 15:15

Zimbabwe is riddled with difficulties in the energy sector – a familiar struggle for many African countries. The coal power stations are outdated, dysfunctional and lack renewable energy alternatives. The country experiences regular power outages that put pressure on an already fragile economy.

From this context, MSc candidate Grace Ngwenya, a Zimbabwean national, joined our Geomatics Division in 2020. Grace, supervised by Dr Simon Hull, is nearing the completion of her thesis, where she has used GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and remote sensing to identify suitable locations for renewable energy production plants in Zimbabwe.

Grace had three objectives when conducting her research:

  1. First, she had to look at the factors that make particular spaces suitable for renewable energy possibilities. This included studies on elevation, topography, population, road positioning, river networks, environmental factors and of course, the specific factors of sunshine (solar), precipitation (hydropower) and wind speed.
  2. Next, she put this data into a GIS system to collect and manipulate it to identify suitable places for possible renewable energy infrastructure to be installed.
  3. Finally, she calculated the potential contribution these sustainable power plants would make to the existing infrastructure and how that would assist with the country’s economic and energy demands.

For Grace, this project was personal. Having grown up with the rolling blackouts and economic tension in Zimbabwe, she welcomed an opportunity to work towards possible solutions and give back somehow. “Even if someone else does the final implementation of this research, it would have all been worthwhile,” Grace explained. “I developed a love of technology, drones and spatial problem-solving at school, and to be able to use these to connect with and care for community has been amazing.”

Grace’s work addresses 7 of the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals, with Goal 7 being her primary focus, ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Grace will graduate with her MSc in 2022 and has started work as an Engineering Surveyor (in training) as of September 2021.