Connect with us

Support The NewsHawks

Environment & Climate

Energy policy failures, corruption propel Zim’s rolling power outages



ZIMBABWE’S power crisis has been precipitated mainly by a combination of climate crisis, poor planning and economic mismanagement, The NewsHawks has learnt.


Residential areas around the country have been going for over 18 hours without electricity, a situation that has been worsened by a decline in the water level at Lake Kariba, where the country’s largest power generation plant is located.

After the country exhausted its allocated water for power gneration, the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) recommended the shutdown of turbines at the Kariba South hydro-power plant.

 Obsolete equipment has also seen Zimbabwe’s small thermal power stations failing to meet their power generation targets. This has seen thermal stations like Harare, with generation capacity of 20MW, being decommissioned.

Small thermal power stations have been struggling, producing a total of 41.47GWh of energy, falling 29.09% short of the quarterly target of 58.48GWh, according to the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC).

While the government has often spoken about its intention to tap into renewable energy, most power deals have failed to materialise due to poor public resource management. This has in several instances seen the country being prejudiced of public funds, leaving the country vulnerable to dire energy shortfalls.

Gwanda Project

 In 2015, Intratrek, a company owned by Harare businessman Wicknell Chivayo, won a US$193 million tender to build a 100MW solar project, an ambitious plan aimed at easing pressure on the dilapidated Hwange and Kariba power stations, a project that has failed to take-off, eight years later.

The ZPC in 2015 laid charges of fraud against 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.

Signs of hope for the project’s take-off started showing again in July 2020, when then energy minister Fortune Chasi said the government was going to re-establish plans to run the Gwanda Solar Project, after Intratrek had vowed to deliver the first 10MW within six months. The project has been in limbo since then.

Chivayo has instead instituted a US$22 million lawsuit against the ZPC for claiming the fraud charges have been hampering him from getting contracts from outside Zimbabwe. In September he insisted the ZPC owes him substantial amounts of money, claiming that he had sourced land for the solar project using his own funds. The ZPC has also failed on several occasions to press criminal charges against him.

The Geogenix Waste-to-Energy Project

This year, Harare City Council penned a US$344 million waste-to-energy deal at Pomona dumpsite in Harare projected to add 22MW to the national grid through waste processing at Pomona dumpsite.

In February this year, Information minister Monica Mutsvanga urged local authorities to “open up similar projects in other cities and towns as a way to ensure environmentally-friendly management of waste in the country.”

The project-turned-looting scandal has however sparked a public outcry, with residents and stakeholders saying it provides evidence of corruption by the government in cahoots with MDC-T councillors.

 Under the deal, Harare City Council is supposed to pay Geogenix BV over US$22 000 a day for the first year and will suffer consequences by way of heavy penalties should it fail to fulfil its side of the bargain. In the first year, Harare is expected to deliver 550 tonnes a day to Pomona dumpsite and over 200 750 tonnes a year, which translates to US$8 030 000 that will be paid to the Netherlands-based company.

According to the contract, from the fifth year until the end of the contract, council is also expected to have 1 000 tonnes a day, and not less than 365 000 tonnes a year. While city council claims to have cancelled the deal, government insists it is still on.

Coal projects

Zimbabwe has also been banking on coal as a long-term power solution, which has been greatly affected by China’s announcement last year to halt coal projects outside its mainland, in order to reduce carbon emissions.

This has worsened Zimbabwe’s power crisis. For instance, Zimbabwe Zhongxin Electrical Energy, a joint venture with the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), was building a 50MW power plant with plans to expand that to 430MW. Dinson Colliery, the coal-mining subsidiary of steelmaker Tsingshan Holding Group, was working on a US$300 million coking plant, while Jinan Corporation was planning a 600MW plant.

Another major project that has been directly affected is 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, and PER Lusulu Power’s proposed 2 100MW power plant in the north-western district of Binga.

While Zimbabwe has coal — the major resource — it has been starved of funding to develop thermal power stations on its own.

Last year, Zesa’s executive chairperson Sydney Gata told journalists touring the Hwange Thermal Power station that while a migration to renewable energy was necessary, resources like solar and wind have a premium of cost adaptation as they require storage, which is costly. Gata said a regional power strategy should be pursued to improve electricity availability and access in Sadc.

 “Development of the massive hydro potential on the Kafue and Zambezi basins, and operation of the power plants on a collaborative, conjunctive basis is the most viable strategy for the Sadc region. The resources will be operated on the catchment rule, as opposed to the current reservoir rule model,” he said.

“Conjunctive dispatch guarantees that more energy is harvested from the same resources than if operated as single reservoirs. The reservoirs also serve as a large storage battery intermittent solar energy resources, whereby PV (photovoltaic) solar and wind turbines will be operated during daytime, with hydro power deployed to smoothen out the intermittency and at night as illustrated below: “It seems imperative that, both for the country and region, we should urgently transition to a green economy. The model of migration which is anchored on collaborative regional development of the massive hydro resources on the Zambezi-Kafue basin, and the setting up of CARE (Central Africa Renewable Energy) as the operating entity, will ensure that the other more desirable sources of renewable energy such as solar and wind can develop faster, as they will be supported by massive hydro storage as a natural battery.

“We therefore offer to transition from a fossil fuel to a green economy so that we can run our farming, industry, mining and also transition from petrol and diesel traction to electric cars and railway locomotives to cut greenhouse gas emissions. We call for support from the global players to realise green energy economies for our collaborating states, and support of the global economies to fund this initiative through export of their technologies,” Gata said.

 Energy experts say Zimbabwe has been failing to tap into alternative cleaner energy sources like coal-bed methane, which is an available and clean energy source.

“Zimbabwe has a policy on coal-bed methane gas. I am not sure why they have not been talking about it or lobbying for it. “I am surprised that we are drilling coal using the policy — which is still in its infancy. It is the same policy that governs coal-bed methane, which means government is aware of the fact that we can use the energy source as an alternative to actually digging coal.

 “So, if we have coal-bed methane, how about we put resources we are using for refurbishing the ones failing us (hydro and coal) and develop new energy sources,” said Darlington Chidarara, an energy law expert.