A NEW World Bank report shows that Zimbabwe’s energy sector has begun lagging behind other lower middle income countries in sub-Saharan Africa as the nation requires US$4.4 billon to upgrade its power infrastructure.
Experts say despite some recent developments, Zimbabwe’s electricity sector still faces power supply deficits and the slowing of progress toward universal electricity access. The country still suffers from significant power deficits.
In 2020, the available generation capacity was 1 585 megawatts (MW) compared with peak demand of 1900MW, forcing the country to implement load-shedding of 12–14 hours a day.
Christopher Saunders, senior energy specialist at the World Bank country office, told delegates attending the launch of the Zimbabwe Economic Update that the country has started to lag despite historically being ahead of the average.
According to the report, achieving universal electricity access by 2030 will require large investments, against the backdrop of growing peak electricity demand.
“While the Government commissioned an additional 600MW at the Hwange power station in 2023, installed capacity is currently still insufficient to meet demand, and rolling blackouts give rise to a significant burden on Zimbabwe’s economic growth and competitiveness,” the World Bank report says.
“Zimbabwe has seen notable improvements in access, but the pace of rural electrification has slowed down. Between 2014 and 2020, overall energy access expanded from 32 to 53 percent, driven by a rapid rise in access in rural areas (from 8 to 37 percent), while urban areas saw a minor rise (from 83 to 86 percent). However, the overall pace of expansion is slowing down, and there is a need for significant investment to achieve universal access by 2030.”
Medium-term World Bank projections suggest that electricity demand will grow from
1 950MW in 2022 up to 5 177MW by 2030.
This is driven primarily by growing demand from the mining and agriculture sectors, and results in a considerable widening of the power deficits.
To reach universal access by 2030 will require annual connections to increase from
25 000 in 2020 to about 537 000 per year.
“The Government is planning to expand electricity access through various sources, but it remains unclear how these investments will be financed,” the World Bank says.
“As such, while there are significant opportunities to expand electricity generation, it remains unclear how this expansion will be financed going forward. The projected amounts will be challenging to raise from domestic resources alone, and there is an urgent need to involve more private investors and the international development community to help accommodate the financing needs.”
The biggest planned increase in electricity supply comes from the Batoka Gorge Project along the border with Zambia (2 400MW in total, or 1 200MW for Zimbabwe) projected for completion after 2034, and the Devil’s Gorge (1 200MW) to be completed by 2040.
This is complemented by additional energy projects in solar, wind, mini-hydro and geothermal. The National Renewable Energy Policy of 2019 is targeting an additional 2 100MW by 2030 from renewables, mainly solar PV (1 600MW).
This would be complemented by storage at the Kariba reservoir and battery energy storage systems. Stronger regional integration is planned with the Mupanda Nkuwa Project (800MW) and an extension of Cahora Bassa (495MW), both in Mozambique.
“Subsequently, generation expansion efforts would comprise gas and hydropower power plants, in addition to more solar,” the World Bank says.
“The associated grid expansion to 2030 is estimated to cost a total of US$4.4 billion. An indicative financing plan envisages that the Government of Zimbabwe would finance 85% of this cost, while consumers and the private sector would finance 11 and 4 percent, respectively.”
Zimbabwe is currently ineligible to access concessional funding from international financial institutions such as the World Bank due to non-payment of arrears.