Electricity in Zimbabwe

As of 2021, Zimbabwe's installed electricity generation capacity was approximately 2,540 MW, with about 1,400 MW coming from thermal power plants and the remainder from hydropower plants, including the Kariba Dam. However, due to a combination of factors such as climate change, ageing infrastructure and equipment breakdowns, actual electricity generation is often much lower than this capacity, resulting in power cuts and load shedding. 

To address the electricity shortage, the Zimbabwean government has been investing in renewable energy sources such as solar power and also looking into importing electricity from neighboring countries. But how soon can the country do away with these challenges to give its people and businesses the boost that they require to experience much-needed sustained growth? Mandla Chinula and Roland Ngam delve into this question and others in this three-part series. 

Persistent challenges

There are several factors currently contributing to electricity shortages in Zimbabwe, including:

 Drought: Zimbabwe's main source of electricity is the Kariba Dam, which relies on water from the Zambezi River. However, droughts in recent years have reduced water levels in the dam, resulting in reduced electricity generation capacity. 

Ageing infrastructure: Much of Zimbabwe's electricity infrastructure is old and in need of maintenance or replacement. This can lead to breakdowns, outages, and very often, reduced capacity.

Economic challenges: Zimbabwe has faced economic challenges in recent years, including hyperinflation, currency devaluation, and a shortage of foreign currency. This has made it difficult to invest in and maintain electricity infrastructure. The lack of investment has made it difficult to build new power plants or upgrade existing ones. China recently pulled out of a deal to fund the construction of coal power plants in the country due to the global campaign to keep dirty fossils in the ground, although ironically it has installed over 200GW of coal generation capacity since 2020. 

Looking forward

On March 23 2023, Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) and HDF Energy signed an MOU worth US$300 million with French independent power producer HDF Energy to develop the country’s green hydrogen power plant. The Zimbabwean government hopes that this deal will attract other independent power producers to the country.

However, addressing Zimbabwe’s power issues will require significantly higher public or private investment, effective management, and a long-term strategy to improve electricity infrastructure and reduce reliance on the Kariba Dam. The US$1.5 billion project to construct two new units of 300MW each at Hwange 7 and 8 is nearing completion and the first phase is already delivering power to the grid. Still, there is a very long way to go. Most suburbs are still spending up to 15 hours per day without electricity.