Zimbabwe back to 20-hour power cuts, with light at end of the tunnel only in 2025

Story by News24

HARARE — Zimbabwe's respite concerning perennial power cuts seems to be out of sight. And it is such an ugly situation. The country is once again grappling with 20-hour power cuts, and the earliest a solution can come to fruition is 2025.

"It's a long road ahead," Energy Minister Edgar Moyo remarked. 

Electricity loadshedding in Zimbabwe: Power cuts and energy crisis to continue, November 2023
Image: Desmond Kwande/AFP

Zimbabwe's peak demand for electricity is 1,850MW, but capacity at the moment falls below 1,200MW from the country's three power generation plants—the Hwange Thermal Power Station, which produces 674MW, and the Kariba Hydrothermal Power Station, which produces 500MW.

Independent Power Producers (IPP) are insignificant with 38MW, according to figures released by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) on Friday.

Hwange's Unit 7 was taken off the grid for regular maintenance and will be brought back in a few weeks, but Unit 8 is also be due for maintenance.

Responding to questions in Parliament, Moyo said the situation in Kariba, which should normally generate 1,050MW, was worrying.

"Our normal storing capacity in Kariba is 1 050 megawatts, but we are currently running between 250 and 300 megawatts [ZESA said it's 500MW], which is already a depressed capacity of generation," he said.

He added: "We have developed a road map that has been adopted by the cabinet on how we are going to solve the energy issue through 2025."

According to the government, the country's energy needs by 2025 will be around 3,500MW.

The government is seeking to reach the 2025 targets by mixing fossil energy and green energy projects, with the private sector playing a leading role.

"In the medium to long term, the government will embrace private sector-led coal mining initiatives and new technologies such as green hydrogen, floating solar panels, battery energy storage systems, and funding some of the renewable energy projects dotted around the country in order to increase domestic generation of electricity," Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Jenfan Muswere told journalists.

The only areas enjoying unlimited access to electricity are those on the same grid as VIP residences, major hospitals, and broadcasters.

The wealthy are making investments in solar power and backup generators that run on petrol and diesel.

Solar energy is fast coming into vogue since it doesn't require fuel and is, in the last analysis, less expensive in the long run.

Two 24-volt panels and four 12-volt batteries make up a typical solar home station.

However, the average salary of around US$250 for government workers and other common folk makes sustainable energy an unaffordable, remote alternative.

Subsequently, obsolete techniques like charcoal have gained popularity.

Charcoal is reasonably priced for the average person. A 50kg bag lasts for a month and costs roughly US$5.50.

To manufacture charcoal, vendors harvest and burn mopani trees in the wild. 

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) has always been a mainstay energy source as it is particularly more popular in urban centres. 

The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) estimates that by December this year, the country would have consumed 65 million kilogrammes.

A decade ago, the consumption was just five million kilogrammes.

Still, gas is expensive for ordinary people when it sells for about US$1.85 per kg.

Bigger businesses are also feeling the effects of power outages.

National Foods, one of the largest manufacturers and marketers of food products, now relies heavily on generators, and its diesel uptake has gone up by 448%, further driving up the cost of its products.

With the problem likely to be around for a long time, National Foods is contemplating constructing a solar power station.

The situation is worse for tobacco farmers, one of Zimbabwe's major foreign currency earners.

Speaking to the state-run Herald, Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA) chief executive officer Rodney Ambrose said: "Growers are struggling to complete their irrigation cycles and are relying on diesel-powered generators, incurring huge costs."

Ambrose said that since using generators for irrigation was not a sustainable alternative, crop quality, output and producer viability would probably be jeopardised.

Power demand will rise even more when the irrigated crop begins to cure in early December.

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