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3 Jul 2023

Lincoln Towindo, China Dialogue

Zimbabwe: Chinese investment shifts to hydropower and solar following China's pledge to end coal power plants overseas

"Zimbabwe looks towards cleaner energy" 22 June 2023

[...] In 2020, more than 40% of the country’s power was generated from coal. Poor households in the country’s vast rural areas, meanwhile, remain largely dependent on wood for cooking and heating, which puts pressure on forests. [...]

Coal contradictions

In spite of its climate pledges and green energy policies, Zimbabwe continues to pursue a number of coal power projects.

RioZim, one of the country’s biggest mining companies, plans to develop a 2,800 MW coal power station in Sengwa, in the north, where massive coal reserves have been discovered.

The US$3 billion project ran into turbulence last year after the proposed financier, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), withdrew following China’s pledge to end support for coal power plants overseas. RioZim is now scouting for new financiers.

Also in the pipeline is the proposed 2,100 MW Lusulu thermal power project that, according to energy minister Soda, is currently seeking funding.

Further, the Zimbabwean government has secured a US$310 million loan from India’s Export-Import Bank to fund the life extension of six units at the Hwange coal power station by up to 25 years. The project will restore generation to 96% of its 920 MW capacity. Works are expected to commence later this year and be completed by the end of 2028.

From backing coal to backing the transition

China has been a significant player in Zimbabwe’s energy sector. ICBC’s withdrawal from the Sengwa coal power plant project in 2022 was a signal that Chinese overseas investors’ focus had shifted from coal to hydropower and solar.

Along with US-based multinational General Electric, Power China is currently developing the Batoka Gorge hydroelectric plant on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

According to Minister Soda, environmental and social impact assessment studies have already been completed for the plant, though not yet for the additional transmission lines, which will be required since the planned generation capacity of the plant was increased from 1,600 MW to 2,400 MW. [...]

Recently, China Energy Engineering Corporation proposed the construction of a 1,000 MW solar plant at the Kariba dam, at a cost of nearly US$1 billion. Chinese companies have so far signed agreements for solar projects totalling at least 350 MW in capacity, according to a briefing paper by the International Institute of Green Finance at China’s Central University of Finance and Economics.

Chinese firm Yaowei Technology also plans to establish a US$15 million solar panel manufacturing plant in Zimbabwe, to manufacture about 500 solar panels per day. [...]