New Hwange Unit 7 set to add 300MW to the national grid, time to embrace coal?

Leonard Sengere Avatar

Humans are built to adapt and we are really good at it. I think the Zimbabwean is particularly excellent at this. There is no point in mourning over what won’t change no matter how much you murmur and complain. Hence why we no longer bat an eye at rolling 16-hour blackouts. 

The electricity situation has been dreadful and we have all accepted it. We have turned to solar and diesel power, they are more expensive but offer reliability like Zesa never could. 

Generator power

Unfortunately for us, this teapot nation finds new ways to pummel us. If you go the generator route, easing your own demand on the inadequate national grid, you still have to cough up the dough. You need a licence to operate a generator over 5kva

A Harare man was recently hit with a ZW$100,000 fine for operating such a generator without a licence. The man was angry as you would expect and it’s hard to argue with the point some have made regarding this,

Imagine, you must now pay tax to operate a generator in Zimbabwe over 5kva. Yet, you have to do so because the govt can’t supply power…

… Govt fails to deliver a basic service, citizens are forced to make a plan & then govt exploits this with a licensing levy.

The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) says this is all to protect the public. They clarified that it’s not about the power generation capacity of the generator being used. Rather, it’s about the amount of fuel it consumes per hour.

If your generator consumes more than 5kg per hour of fuel and is being used at the commercial level or for industrial purposes then you need a licence for it. 

These fuel chuggers emit fumes by the boatload. If a few households on your street had these bad boys you would suffer for it. So, it does make sense that EMA would regulate some of this. 

I hope this means they would refuse those who would use such fuel chuggers licences if they wanted to use them in residential areas unless there is a way to deal with the fumes. It defeats the purpose if they can just pay to use those generators. The licence would then be just a revenue-generating exercise on EMA’s part.

Solar power

The situation is just as bad for those who can’t afford 5kva generators. Solar setups are expensive too. However, the Chinese have our backs there with their cheap but low-quality solar panels, inverters and batteries. These are the ones that most Zimbabweans are buying.

You get what you pay for, I know, but it still feels like people are being fleeced with this equipment that claims to have 10-year warranties but conks out after just a few months. There will be no returns or refunds, unfortunately.

The nightmare to end?

Could we yet rely on the national power company? There are developments there that could mean the end of our electricity problems. Okay, maybe not the end but maybe the easing of said challenges.

The situation on the ground is this, installed capacity is around 2300MW, and actual power generation capacity is 1400MW whilst peak demand is 1700MW in summer and 2200MW in winter. 

As you know, capacity does not equal actual production. We are producing less than our 1400MW generation capacity. Worsening the shortfall, hence the crazy power cuts. 

Power generation fell when water levels at Kariba fell massively. We had to shut all power generation at Kariba for a while.

In late December 2022, it got so bad that of the water in the reservoir, only 0.77% was usable. Since then, as the rains have continued pouring down, the lake levels have been slowly increasing. Usable storage was up to 8.91% on February 13th.

As that situation improves we are seeing improvements in the electricity supply. That doesn’t change the fact that our generation capacity is less than our peak demand though, even in the summer.

Where we used to turn to our neighbours for help, they are facing their own challenges and sometimes cannot provide us with the balance we need to keep the lights on. It also doesn’t help that we also approach these arrangements with an ‘I’ll pay you when I pay you’ kind of attitude. 

Coal to the rescue

Hwange Unit 7 is set to add 300MW to the national grid sometime this February. Unit 7 will be the first to go live following the Hwange Thermal Power Station expansion project that started in 2018.

The Minister of Energy and Power Development says Unit 7 has undergone commissioning tests and has been successful. The system is now 99% complete and is now being synchronised to produce the exact voltage, frequencies and phasing to match the national grid.

After Unit 7 goes live, the Minister says we should expect Unit 8 to follow by June this year. You gotta love election year, stuff gets done.

We had 6 old units that are now unreliable and are operating at less than half of their designed output. These old Units will be rehabilitated too and the hope is that Hwange will produce its designed 920MW after all this.

I know that one should not say this in the current climate but I think Zimbabwe should lean on coal. We have 163 years’ worth of coal at current consumption levels, excluding unproven reserves. 

Let’s add even more units at Hwange and solve our electricity problems once and for all. The world prefects that look down upon coal used it for decades whilst we slumbered. It’s our turn to use this abundant resource.

I mean, with climate change caused by their coal use back then, our rainfall patterns have changed. We just had to shut Kariba down for low water levels which means hydroelectricity is not as reliable as we once thought it was.

We do not have control over how much rain falls but we do have control over how much coal we mine. So, Hwange should be our priority, in my opinion.

That’s my two cents on this but tell us what you think about it in the comments section below. 

Also read:

ZETDC installs its first smart meter at Harare Poly. But what is a smart meter anyway?

ZETDC’s 350 000 household connection deficit. What if…?

Zimbabwe’s unreliable electricity supply makes it the biggest adopter of solar systems in Africa



  1. Yo

    It’s commendable but we should not sit on our laurels. The solar option has to be explored. This is reasonable in the short term but long term new hydroelectric and solar. With the advent of electric cars and new suburbs the demand only going to increase better still make the panels and batteries here for local consumption with the excess exported. We can’t do it alone. We need to open the space up

    1. Jinx

      Election season is wild. Tap water has been running for 4 days straight in my hood. That’s a 4 year high record. Back to the electricity issue, what’s the progress report on the canal that was supposed tosupply these new units with water?

      1. Leonard Sengere

        4 days of Zinwa tap water running? Did you report that fault?
        Will have to check on the canal.

        1. José


    2. Leonard Sengere

      History tells us that we can’t depend on ZETDC and so we should do all we can to open the space up. We should offer massive tax incentives to companies that invest in solar and reduce demand on the national grid. You’re right that demand is only going to go up and so we can’t be celebrating adding 300+300?MW in decades.

  2. Anonymous

    EMA said you don’t need a license for residential generator use, no matter how much fuel it uses

    1. Leonard Sengere

      We can infer that from the statement they gave. However, it’s not clear. They say it only applies to generators used commercially but also say any consumption above 5kg per hour indicates commercial use and so needs a licence.

  3. D.K.

    Problem is we have people with a subsistence mindset who are in control of producing national goods. Due to the nature of their appointment and lack of knowledge of the sector, most of those on top are impotent to make firm decisions on firing or reassigning those immediately under them. We have had so many promises, and, if I remember well, we were told that by 2023 we should be exporting electricity. ( will the 2030 in under 7 years happen?). Do we have Project Management skills employed when we come out with dates that are never met? People just give a date with no timelines. Just like the developed countries, informed promises will make us accelerate forwards.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      Zimbabwe’s problems are mostly leadership problems. Top positions are awarded as political gifts, they are not made on merit most times. It is inevitable that this would happen.

  4. Imi Vanhu Musadaro

    Sad thing about EMA’s stance is that even licenced generators still produce fumes. It’s just a revenue collection scheme, how do the licensing fees serve in air pollution reduction?

    We haven’t heard any plans of a new Hwange 9 and 10. Even if 7 and 8 alleviate the power problems, it’s going to be shortlived. Any failure at 7 and 8 also immediately plunges us into loadshedding. 🤦🏾‍♂️

    Noone talks about Hwange 1 to 6, we just hear about the “last borns” whom the entire family has hinged their hopes upon.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      That’s what’s worrying about the licence. They don’t care that you are polluting, they just want to make money off your polluting. I’m convinced though that there is some document somewhere talking about how they will use said licence fees for the greater good.

      Kariba is at the mercy of erratic rain patterns. Hwange Units 1-6 cannot be depended on and if the promised rehabilitation is not done come election time, we will have to wait until the next cycle. So, the ‘last-borns’ really have their work cut out for them. Any stumble and we are back to darkness. We can celebrate Unit 7 going online but let us not kid ourselves that our problems are over.

    2. The Empress

      This is Zimbabwe! The only thing that the government puts any real effort in the whole country is the tax (revenue) collection system. There is virtually not a single ministry/department that does not issue out some form of licence that has to be paid for. They are no longer even shy.
      EMA whose very existence is about protecting the environment could have dressed up their licence requirements with extras like requiring that a catalytic converter be installed on such large generators. But they basically said “ F**k the environment give us money!”

      1. Leonard Sengere

        Yep, they could have done the bare minimum to make it look like it’s about the environment. They couldn’t be bothered. Pay to pollute if your pocket allows.

  5. Toup

    Mind you when unit seven and eight go online some older units will also be put offline for major upgrades and we all know how long those last(🤫 until next election) so we are still in deepsh’t

    1. Sensei

      Is there no way of recycling the water that turns turbines in Kariba. At least a certain percentage could be pumped back and reused to produce more than to just run off down Zambezi river.

      1. Leonard Sengere

        I am no engineer and so couldn’t say if that would work. My brain goes straight to the ‘pump back’ line. Doesn’t that require too much power?

      2. Samaita

        Virtually impossible to do so due to the high volumes of water required to run the generators. The water retained will likely be too insignificant to make any difference so as Engineers, we have never even bothered to try it hahahaaaa.

    2. Leonard Sengere

      Yep. We are not out of the woods. It is a welcome development but we neglected this infrastructure for so long that adding 300MW just isn’t enough.

  6. Snopymaps

    Talking of competitive advantage, that’s our best option as Zimbabwe to embrace coal. Given our geographically location in Southern Africa, coal is the only viable option as we don’t have that much capacity for future hydropower power expect for Batoka and downstream of Zambezi River towards the Indian ocean. Energy projects require massive funding to supply electricity for the whole country and Zimbabwe is currently shut off from international financial markets only relying on China. Until thats sorted out, load shedding will be a daily occurrence because we need money. The private sector can’t do as much to compete with ZETDC.

    1. D.K.

      Let us forget about coal and any fossil fuels. The country helping us with the building and refurbishment of the Hwange Units has stopped planning any coal associated power projects. I still believe, with the will, modern generators from reputable manufacturers can be substituted for the aged units at Kariba, boosting the output. After a long time of enjoying our talk on solar farms with no significant thing on the ground yet, we should seriously look into the viability of our talk and let those who use brain and hand implement. By now we should have had about three by 100Megawatt farms under zesa, and many more smaller or even larger ones that would have come up from the confidence in the zesa farms. Lithium has been around with us for some time, but we seem to be researching and constructing infrastructure around it without having got to exploiting it yet, except for that which has benefited those with the famous lorries. The country has enough resources to make contracts with international companies and experts in hydro power and solar power to come and build the total infrastructure for us and leave us to run it up (or down). On lithium, the world is not waiting for anyone who has it but is carrying forward with research into friendlier substitutes for the lithium, we may end up with a lot of useless heaps by not striking while the iron is still hot, (or is it while the lithium is still hot)!

      1. Leonard Sengere

        That’s the risk. These precious minerals won’t be precious till kingdom comes. Advancements have rendered once special minerals worthless and it can happen to almost every other mineral. Lithium production looks set to increase but it’s hard to believe everything we here during this election season.

    2. Leonard Sengere

      If only we could properly exploit the vast mineral resources we have. We wouldn’t need any help funding our own infrastructure projects. Not the West, not China. In reality it looks like we likely won’t be able to fully benefit from our coal reserves. Not even China is keen to fund such projects.

  7. The Empress

    “Come one come all and feast your eyes on amazing levels of incompetence that defy belief!”
    You know the saying about dying of thirst whilst standing in water?
    Well Zimbabwe is the real world example. No need to imagine you can see it with your own eyes.
    You say coal Zimbabwe should lean on coal?
    We have had the coal sitting in the ground for well over 40 years and known that it was there. It’s not like the Chiyadzwa diamonds that popped up overnight like mana from heaven and disappeared almost as fast, or the lithium that had no real use until recently.
    During the times when the world thought putting lead and asbestos into everything was a good idea and nobody cared about the environment or had even heard of global warming. We just sat on our coal, we didn’t dig it up to export or burn it ourselves, when anybody and everyone was willing to give us money to build power stations to burn it in we just sat on it.
    But now is the time we decided to go out and burn more coal? If even the evil loanshark China is no longer willing to lend out money to build coal fired power stations.
    How are we going to pull off that particular miracle?
    Zimbabwe is broke! The reason that it has taken so long for Unit 7 to be completed has nothing to do with how complicated the process is, but everything is to do with how long it took the Zimbabwean government to put together the money!
    After all nobody knows you better than the person who borrows you money on a regular basis. So China set up the contract in stages with a certain amount to be paid upon completion of each stage and Zimbabwe still struggled to pay! 5 years just to build unit 7 and get it almost ready to run. How long to get the other units?
    I truly believe that solar is the quickest way for Zimbabwe to alleviate it’s electricity crisis to a certain extent, but I’m also morbidly curious to find out how our government will manage to F**k that up 🤔

    1. Leonard Sengere

      Yep, it is frustrating to realise that we sat by whilst our coal reserves lost value over the decades. We are introducing new units to burn coal when the world has moved on from it to the point of not even being willing to help us fund such projects. You raise a good point. We missed the boat here and it’s too little too late.
      As regards solar being our best hope, all I can say is that we do have the weather for it. What will it take to make solar work? Tax incentives? Govt spending?

      1. The Empress

        Government is broke and it has a bad credit record so getting loans would be a challenge.
        The only viable option is solicit private investment. Both local and foreign.
        The first step would be to cancel all current licences issued out to rent seeking individuals who have done absolutely nothing substantial with those free licences.
        If by some miracle government succeds in doing this then the next step is.
        Offer those licences to build and operate a for example a 100MW solar plant at a refundable fee of let’s say $25 million with the money held in escrow account with set targets for release of this money back to the licence holders this will weed out the chancers.
        On it’s part the government will give
        (1) Tax incentives
        (2) Guarantees that any foreign investors will be allowed /able to repatriate profits outside the country
        (3) Guarantee a set minimum price that ZESA will pay for electricity as well as a guaranteed minimum amount of electricity that will be bought by ZESA
        (4) reduce the local ownership requirements
        All this would require nothing more than political will on the part of the government.
        So we can definitely be certain that the government will instead sell the resources and souls of our country to the Chinese for a loan instead

  8. The Empress

    By the way. We all know how much unit 7 is expected to produce. But is there any information about how much it cost to build. This in my mind is the most important piece of information. In a country that nearly bought $9000 laptops this something that we need to be aware of.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      It looks like we don’t have the requisite clearance to get such information.

  9. Anonymous PQR

    The world prefects that look down upon coal used it for decades whilst we slumbered. It’s our turn to use this abundant resource.