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Zimbabwe paying price for shoddy energy deals

by Staff reporter
04 Dec 2022 at 09:06hrs | Views
ZIMBABWE is paying the price for failure to tap into renewable energy, as climate change is hindering power generation at Kariba Power Station - the country's largest electricity generating plant - while jeopardising long-term power prospects.  

The country recently depleted its allocated water for power generation at the Kariba hydro-electric power station, which has seen the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) suspending the plant's operations, erasing at least three-quarters of national power supply.

Dam levels have been drastically falling over the years, reaching a paltry 3.7% from 27% and 86% recorded in 2018 and 2019 respectively, hampering power generation.

Domestic electricity generation has also been dogged by several challenges, including obsolete equipment and infrastructure, inability to attract significant private sector investment, and other financing instruments, leading to drastic load shedding.

In an interview with South Africa's News24, energy expert Victor Vutedzi said Zimbabwe has to improve the business environment to attract investors who can fund renewable energy projects.

Vutedzi has in the past worked with power projects that have an installed capacity of 6 000 megawatts (MW), and various other projects in Africa.

"Each government is faced with the power crisis in its territory. They need to satisfy growing domestic needs and then export. The solution is in improving the ease of doing business in the country.

"Investors here have the same concerns everywhere — Is my money safe?, and Will I be able to get it at market prices?". Capital is always looking for the safest and most profitable environment. Neighbours are competing for the same pool of capital," Vutedzi said.

While Zimbabwe has been relying on importing energy to bridge the power deficit, South Africa, the region's economic powerhouse, has been equally hamstrung.

As of Thursday, the country's power stations had produced a total of 561MW against a national demand of 2 200MW, according to an update by the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC).

The future is also becoming bleak for Zimbabwe's long-term power prospects – based on coal — as the world is drifting away from the energy source due to its contribution to the climate crisis.

Researchers say coal combustion still accounts for 40% of global CO2 emissions from energy use, hence the need to stop using it – unless with carbon capture and storage technology.
Zimbabwe, on the other hand, has large coal deposits which it is banking on to maximise power generation.

The country's proven reserves are equivalent to 163.3 times its annual consumption. It consumes 3 388 555 tonnes of coal per year, ranking 53rd in the world for consumption, accounting for about 0.3% of the world's total consumption of 1 139 471 430 tonnes.
Zimbabwe consumes 241 516 cubic feet of coal per capita every year or 662 cubic feet per capita per day.

This means it has about 163 years of coal left (at current consumption levels and excluding unproven reserves).

China, Zimbabwe's largest energy financier, last year announced its commitment to reduce funding for coal-fired projects outside its mainland, which has worsened the situation.

President Xi Jinping's United Nations General Assembly announcement last year has been projected to affect at least 54 gigawatts — which involve Zimbabwe's projects of proposed China-backed coal plants.

Zesa Holdings executive chairperson Sydney Gata last year told journalists visiting Hwange Thermal Power Station that China's decision had instantaneously affected two major projects in Zimbabwe.

This includes major coal projects that were in the pipeline, including the US$3 billion 2 800MW thermal power plant in Gokwe that RioZim Energy was building with engineering and financial support from China Gezhouba Group Company.

"It must be noted that the economies of countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe were constructed on fossil fuel as the primary energy source," Gata said.

"The economy of Zimbabwe has been touted as the fastest growing economy in Africa by the IMF and the World Bank. This growth was based on a fossil fuel economy. Hence decisions to cut funding on fossil fuel energy will leave a profound gap in the economic and social stability of the Sadc countries. Their targets for United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be missed, as all the SDGs are predicated on electricity supply which is available, accessible and affordable."

Zimbabwe is now prospecting the renewable energy space, and has licensed more than 60 independent power producers (IPP) in the renewable energy space, with a collective capacity to generate 2 000MW.

However, the projects' take-off has been slow on account of viability issues, according to the 2023 National Budget.  

Energy experts say Zimbabwe lacks the capacity to make a quick transition to renewable energy as it has limited base stations to beef up power supply.

"We are still a developing nation. We do not have a sufficient base load for us to focus on going green, as has been said during Conference of Parties (Cop) summit commitments.

"We still need base loads, and our base loads come from other alternative power sources like gas and nuclear energy. Unfortunately, we do not have gas or nuclear power stations in Zimbabwe, so what we currently have is coal. We need to build more on coal," said an energy expert from the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) who spoke to The NewsHawks.

A base load is the minimum level of electricity demand required over a period of 24 hours, which is needed to provide power to components that keep running at all times.

The expert also said it is important for the country to invest more on carbon suppressant technologies, in order to create base load to back up power generation, which would make it easier to adopt clean energy.

"We need to build more on coal technologies, then use other new technologies to reduce nitrogen, sulphur oxide and other sulphur compounds. There are new technologies that reduce such.

"So, as developing countries, we need to use the resource we have in abundance, that is coal, then we use other technologies to reduce the emissions that we produce that will destabilise the climate," said the source.

Some developed nations have been using nuclear and coal as back-up power facilities, making it easy for them to rely on renewable energy like wind and solar as a long-term power solution.

"To us, solar has its challenges. It needs stabilisers in terms of battery capacity. It is quite difficult to have battery capacity for a whole nation. So, we will have solar systems feeding directly into the grid, but if there are disturbances — changes in weather and others — production levels will also drop.

"With hydro, if there is a drought, production will fall. So we actually need to build more on the coal side, then we see how we can reduce emissions so that we may have a stronger base load. Once we have that, we can now venture into hydro-electricity and several others, so that when we are affected by droughts, we can rely on the available base load," said the source.

Environmental law experts say while the Zimbabwean situation shows how unsustainable hydro-electric energy is becoming, there is need for more research before taking a plunge into renewable energy.

"We have to look at some critical questions. Have we done enough research to determine our capacity and technology? Or, we are just talking.

"Our main focus has been coal, but our funders, mainly the Chinese, are only ready to fund renewable energy projects. If it was not for last year, when they cut funding on the US$3.2 billion project, it would have been better. There were plans to draw water from Zambezi to Gokwe, a distance of over 300 kilometres," said environmental lawyer Darlington Chidarara.

Chidarara also said there is a need for transparency in investments that are made in the energy sector to support the transition, should it happen.

"Can we say we are sincere to start talking about renewable energy, or we are just riding the wave? Can we also account for the investments that are made? It also goes to our basic governance systems. Are we ready to be trustworthy in terms of whom we contract, and how we deal with everything?

"Even the fund which is coming under climate change adaptation, if it is channelled to energy, will we be able to account for it?" he said.

ZPC in 2015 laid charges of fraud against businessman Wicknell Chivayo, accusing him of pocketing US$5 111 224 paid to him for pre-commencement works on the 100MW plant meant for the Gwanda Solar Project. The project has failed to take-off, raising serious questions on the government's commitment to transition to renewable energy.

Source - thenewshawks