Zimbabwe has enormous potential for electricity generation from a range of renewable sources such as hydro, solar and biomass. However, at present only a fraction of the energy potential in these areas has been exploited. We are going to explore Zimbabwe’s power needs, potential and the regulatory environment to demonstrate that the phrase “Zimbabwe is open for business” does not need to be mere political rhetoric but that in the power sector – there are vast opportunities for investment and that the time to exploit them is now.
What are Zimbabwe’s power needs?
Currently, there are consistent power shortages in Zimbabwe, it was measured in February 2016 that the Utility (ZESA) produces 845 MW while the projected national demand is 2,200 MW and the installed capacity was approximately 1,940 MW. There are two major sources of power in the country, being Kariba hydropower plant and the Hwange thermal power station. The former’s ability to produce significant output is hampered by low water levels and the latter suffers from constant breakdowns from a lack of investment in the infrastructure. The country, therefore, imports power from South Africa, Mozambique, and the DRC. Such imports are understood to cost the country at least $19.5 million every month to import 150 MW and 400 MW from Mozambique and South Africa, respectively. Zimbabwe’s population is also growing rapidly (from 7.4 million in 1980 to approximately 14.6 million in 2019), there is therefore an increased demand for energy but there has been no corresponding growth in energy generation.
Zimbabwe is , therefore, in what commentators have described as an “electricity crisis” manifesting in up to 18 hours a day of load shedding.
Renewable Energy Potential in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has enormous renewable energy potential. In terms of solar energy potential 16 to 20 MJ/m2/day is unexploited. According to reports, the country has potential for 1,000 MW from biomass in the form of bagasse, agricultural and municipal waste, forest residue and others. There is also geothermal potential and wind potential, that while this is not significant, it can be used for other processes such as water pumping. The current energy mix is unsustainable, with hydropower at 70% and coal power at 29%, according to the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority. However, there still remains potential of an estimated 120 MW of small hydropower potential untapped. In addition, the country recently discovered reserves of natural gas, which is less polluting than coal, but no sustained efforts have been made yet to exploit these other energies.