22 October 2014, Harare — Zimbabwe’s efforts to ease a long-running energy crisis got a big boost this month with the signing of a billion dollar deal being touted as a long-term solution to light up the country and the economy.
But the move to expand electrical production using fossil fuels and Chinese funding also paves the way for a long-term rise in climate-changing emissions from the southern African nation.
The $1.6 billion energy expansion project, signed with China’s Sino Hydro Corporation, will add 600 megawatts of power to the current 1,700 MW being produced nationwide.
According to officials, the project aims to expand the existing Hwange thermal plant, in the west of Zimbabwe, which the government says has performed poorly as a result of lack of funding to upgrade aging infrastructure.
Financing will come from the Chinese Export and Import Bank, and only after these funds are released will the project kick-off. Negotiations for the Chinese loan could take a year, officials said.
Energy Development Minister Dzikamai Mavhaire told reporters after the signing of the agreement that the government is committed to improving energy supply and bringing electricity to every part of the country, adding the new deal was a step toward “narrowing the demand-supply gap.”
However, the minister said the country’s proposed energy expansion project, including the expansion of the Hwange plant, will not immediately ease power outages as some of the proposed projects would only be completed in 2018.
SECOND PROJECT IN GWAYI
ZERA this month approved another 600 MW fossil fuel electricity generating project in Gwayi, in the southwest of Zimbabwe, to be built by China Africa Sunlight Energy. But according to Charles Mugari, who heads a local consortium that has partnered with the Chinese, the approval only means the companies involved in the project can now start sourcing financing from banks and private investors.
Still, “the plan is to have 300 MW (operating) by the end of 2017,” Mugari said.
The expansion of the Hwange thermal power plant, the construction of the Gwayi thermal plant and a planned expansion of the Kariba dam would see at least 1,200 MW being added to the current 1,700 MW being produced, surpassing the country’s current energy needs of 2,200 MW per day.
Zimbabwe’s energy expansion projects often have stalled over the years because of lack of financing. The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes in its 2014 World Energy Outlook that a poorly developed energy sector has slowed economic development across sub-Saharan Africa.
The IEA says more than 620 million people in Africa have no access to electricity, with another 730 million relying on “dangerous and inefficient forms of cooking” such as firewood and charcoal.
More than 70 percent of Zimbabweans live in rural areas. Those who have access to electricity face daily power cuts, like their urban counterparts, and rely on firewood as an additional source of energy.
The IEA report says sub-Saharan Africa’s economies, taken as a whole, could grow by 30 percent by 2040 with more investment in energy.
While Zimbabwe has lined up numerous multi-billion dollar energy projects, energy experts have expressed concerns that in the absence of commitment by financiers, especially those from China, who the country has turned to increasingly in recent years, the ambitious projects could fall through or take longer than expected to complete.
*Madalitso Mwando, Laurie Goering