What Is The Main Source Of Electricity In Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa that has faced challenges in meeting its electricity needs in recent years. The country has an aging electricity infrastructure that has struggled to keep up with demand. According to the Zimbabwe Power Company, peak demand for electricity can reach 2,200 MW, but installed capacity sits around 1,500 MW. This supply deficit means Zimbabwe has needed to rely on imported electricity from neighboring countries to help bridge the gap.

Zimbabwe’s electricity is generated from a mix of hydroelectric and coal power. The largest power station is the Kariba hydroelectric plant on the Zambezi River, which provides about 50% of the country’s electricity. Thermal power stations fueled by coal provide much of the rest. However, coal supply has been unreliable, and drought has at times affected Kariba’s output. Upgrading Zimbabwe’s outdated transmission grid has been identified as a priority to reduce losses and improve reliability.

Rural electrification also remains a challenge, with only about 40% of rural homes connected to the grid. Efforts are underway to improve rural access and upgrade infrastructure, but securing sufficient financing has been difficult given Zimbabwe’s economic situation.

Coal Power

Zimbabwe has several large coal-fired power stations that provide the bulk of the country’s electricity. The major coal power plants include Hwange, Munyati, Harare, Bulawayo, and Gweru. The Hwange Thermal Power Station is one of Zimbabwe’s largest power stations with a capacity of 920 MW. It was built in phases between 1972 and 1986. Coal for the plant is mined at the nearby Hwange Colliery. Two additional units were added in 2015, bringing Hwange’s capacity to 920 MW and covering over 40% of Zimbabwe’s power needs.

Other major coal power stations include the Munyati power station, which has a 120 MW capacity, and the smaller Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru thermal power stations. Combined, Zimbabwe’s coal-fired plants account for about 85% of the country’s electricity generation capacity. However, many of these plants are aging and prone to breakdowns, often causing load-shedding and power shortages across Zimbabwe. Upgrades and repairs are urgently needed to improve the reliability of coal power.

Kariba Hydroelectric Plant

One of the most important sources of electricity in Zimbabwe is the Kariba Hydroelectric Plant. Located on the Zambezi River at Kariba Gorge, this is one of the largest hydroelectric power stations in Africa with an installed capacity of 1,050 MW.

The Kariba Dam was completed in 1959 and was established through a partnership between the governments of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe). The power station was expanded with a 750 MW extension in the late 1970s and now provides a significant portion of electricity supply for both Zambia and Zimbabwe.

kariba dam generating hydroelectricity

The Kariba South Power Station alone accounts for around 30% of Zimbabwe’s electricity generation and is considered vital infrastructure for the country. However, the dam has faced some structural stability issues in recent years that threatened power output. Efforts are underway to rehabilitate and strengthen the dam wall to ensure it can continue operating safely for years to come.

Renewable Energy

Zimbabwe has significant potential for renewable energy, especially solar, wind, and biogas. The country enjoys over 300 sunny days per year, with an average solar radiation of 5.5kWh/m2/day.1 This makes solar power highly viable. Various solar power projects have been implemented in recent years, including a 5MW solar plant in Insukamini.2

Wind power also holds promise, with measured wind speeds over 7 m/s in some areas. A 100kW wind power project was commissioned in 2020 near Chipinge.3 Biogas generation from agricultural waste and sewage is another growing renewable energy source. The government aims to generate 30MW from biogas by 2030.

Power Imports

Zimbabwe imports electricity from neighboring countries including South Africa, Mozambique, and Zambia to help meet domestic demand. According to data from TheGlobalEconomy.com, Zimbabwe’s electricity imports fluctuated between 0.81 and 5.1 billion kilowatt-hours from 1980 to 2021, with an average of 2.39 billion kWh imported per year [1]. Knoema data shows imports decreasing from 5.18 million MWh in 2002 to just 180,000 MWh in 2021 [2]. This represents a 57% drop in imports over that period according to a news report [3]. Reduced reliance on imports is helping Zimbabwe save on energy costs.

Rural Electrification

The government of Zimbabwe has made efforts to expand the electricity grid to rural areas. According to the World Bank, only 13% of rural households had access to electricity as of 2011 (World Bank). The Rural Electrification Agency (REA) was established in 2002 to help accelerate rural access to electricity. The Rural Electrification Master Plan aims to achieve universal access to electricity in rural areas by 2030. As of 2018, the REA had electrified nearly 1,400 rural institutions such as schools and clinics. Funding has come from levies on electricity consumption and budget support from the government and development partners like the World Bank (Rural Electrification Programme). Recently, Rwanda organized $800 million in funding for Zimbabwe’s rural electrification efforts (Africa Energy Portal). Overall, expanding the grid to remote rural areas has been an ongoing challenge.

Transmission Grid

Zimbabwe’s national transmission grid consists of 5,900 km of 330 kV lines and 2,600 km of 220 kV lines (World Bank). The grid is interconnected with regional neighbors including South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This allows for importing and exporting of power across borders.

However, the transmission grid faces challenges from aging infrastructure leading to frequent faults and losses. The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) estimates that up to 14% of generated power is lost during transmission and distribution (WSP). Significant investment and upgrades are needed to rehabilitate the grid and reduce losses.

Demand and Supply

Electricity demand in Zimbabwe has been rising steadily over the past decade, driven by population growth, urbanization, and industrial development. However, supply has struggled to keep up.

According to the World Bank, Zimbabwe’s peak electricity demand is estimated to reach 2,500 MW by 2030, more than double the current available capacity of 1,320 MW. However, due to aging infrastructure and lack of investment, installed capacity has declined to just 1,050 MW as of 2021. This has resulted in a supply deficit, leading to widespread power cuts and load shedding across the country.

The state-owned utility, ZESA, forecasts demand to surpass available supply by over 30% in the coming years if no new generation comes online. The supply gap is estimated at over 1,500 MW and continues to widen. This presents a major constraint to economic activity and efforts to improve electrification rates.

To bridge the deficit, Zimbabwe urgently needs to invest in rehabilitating existing plants, upgrading transmission and distribution networks, and developing new power sources. The government has set targets to increase installed capacity to over 5,000 MW by 2030 through projects such as the Batoka Gorge hydro plant, Hwange expansion, and renewable energy. However, attracting investment remains a key challenge due to the country’s economic instability.

Reliable and adequate electricity supply is crucial to support Zimbabwe’s development. Narrowing the demand-supply gap will require major reforms, private sector participation, and multi-lateral support to rebuild, expand and decarbonize the country’s power infrastructure.

World Bank,

Power Sector Reforms

The government of Zimbabwe has implemented several reforms in recent years to improve electricity supply and expand access across the country. One major reform was the unbundling of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) into separate generation, transmission, and distribution entities in 2020 (AfDB Data Portal). This restructuring aims to increase efficiency, attract investment, and improve maintenance of aging power infrastructure.

Additionally, the government has taken steps to open up the sector and encourage independent power producers (IPPs) (World Bank). Regulations were changed in 2020 to allow IPPs to sell excess power to the national grid. The government also approved the National Renewable Energy Policy the same year, setting a target for renewable energy to provide 16.5% of power by 2025 and 27% by 2030.

Other reforms have focused on improving revenue collection and financial sustainability of the power sector. Tariffs were raised for the first time in over a decade in 2019 to support power imports and maintenance. The government has also embarked on a program to install smart meters and reduce electricity theft and non-payment (Kayo, 2002).


Zimbabwe’s electricity sector faces challenges but also opportunities. Coal power remains the dominant source supplied by aging thermal power stations, providing over half of all generation. The Kariba hydropower plant on the Zambezi River is the second largest source but vulnerable to droughts. Renewables like solar have high potential but still make up a small percentage of supply. Imported electricity helps fill gaps, but regional transmission infrastructure needs upgrading. Expanding rural electrification is crucial for development. Reforms to attract investment in new capacity are underway but must overcome economic instability and cash shortages. Overall, Zimbabwe has succeeded in providing access to power for much of its population, but ensuring reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity for all remains an ongoing process requiring policy commitment, infrastructure development and technological innovation.

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