The Energy Situation in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country with vast reserves of natural resources, but energy is an area which is draging it down. It faces challenges in supplying energy to its population, but also in connecting its population to the domestic energy grid. Zimbabwe relies mainly on hydroelectric energy and coal-fired furnaces to provide energy and is dependent on a number of neighbouring countries to supply the rest.
The two biggest challenges facing Zimbabwe currently are providing enough energy domestically- whether it be to the public or to industry- and also connecting a larger share of the population to the domestic supply grid. Those that are not connected to the grid still often rely on burning biomass for all their domestic needs; cooking, lighting and heat.
Zimbabwe is now at an energy crossroads. It has the possibility to develop its coal-burning facilities, and use Zimbabwean coal to fire them, or it can move towards a more environmentally friendly and more sustainable approach. As connecting the population to the grid costs nearly $2000 per household, it would make more sense to provide energy on local, and sustainable, approach.
Original Challenge Question
Zimbabwe generates 940 megawatts (MW) of the 2500 MW its population requires. This means that Zimbabwe is dependent on electricity imports from DR Congo, South Africa and Zambia for over half of its total electricity supply. Domestic energy supplies come mainly from the hydro-electric power station and at Kariba, and thermal power stations.
Although only 40% of the population is connected to the national grid, 62% of Zimbabwe’s energy goes to residential use, 9% of energy is spent within agriculture, industry uses 13% and transportation uses 10% of Zimbabwean energy.
As most of the population are not connected to the national grid, they are dependent on other sources for energy; normally results in the burning of biomass fuels. This has its own negative knock-on effects; biomass takes time to collect, and has negative effects for people’s health and the environment.
Zimbabwe had largest and most widespread electricity supply at the time of its independence in 1980, but it has fallen into disrepair. With widespread coal resources in the country, thermal power stations should receive investment. Although environmentally damaging, they provide a cheap, consistent supply of electricity; hydroelectric electricity is dependent on consistent rainfall, and rains have failed in the last few years. Construction of, and supplying coal to new thermal stations would offer employment opportunities for a country with a large, young, and mainly unemployed population. Increased energy output would also lessen Zimbabwe’s dependency on imported electricity, an expensive necessity for a country with as much energy potential as Zimbabwe.
As mentioned above, Zimbabwe is reliant on a number of neighbors to satisfy demand for electricity. This is being overly reliant on other countries in a time where energy is becoming increasingly important. However, this could prove to be an important benefit to the Zimbabweans, and her neighbors. As the infrastructure already exists in this part of Africa for the exchange of electricity, it could provide this area with the opportunity to become a world-leader in the field of eco-friendly energy transfers. This region has vast capabilities in hydroelectric, solar power and wind turbines, and should therefore place great emphasis on working cohesively on reducing their reliance on imported oil and coal, and work towards a green energy supply.
A decision needs to be made in Zimbabwe regarding her energy future. Continued traditional energy expansion can probably only be completed by increased investment in coal fired power plants. Continued investment will slowly but surely connect the rest of the country to the domestic energy grid. Bearing the future in mind, a perhaps more sensible decision to make would be to invest heavily in a green energy supply, in cooperation with its neighbours, and creating a new future for the people, enviornment and energy supply, not only for the people of Zimbabwe, but of southern Africa as a whole.