Coal is the most carbon intensive source of energy and phasing it out is a critical step towards achieving the much needed emission reductions needed to limit global warming to 1.5oC as enshrined in the Paris Agreement. Zimbabwe does not only need to move away from coal because of the need to meet the commitments made in the Paris Agreement but also because coal mining operations take away agricultural land from vulnerable communities, leading to land related conflicts. Zimbabwe has been facing climate induced disasters such as cyclones and persistent droughts, and a takeover and contamination of water bodies by the coal industry, which increases the risk of internal conflicts. The social and environmental impacts of coal are a burden that the Government of Zimbabwe and its citizens cannot afford to bear.
Apart from the health burdens and environmental disasters imposed by coal, Zimbabwe coal power generation has gone down to an all time low with the biggest coal power plant, Hwange Thermal Power Plant, with a capacity of about 920MW producing only 293MW of power. The other coal power plant, Bulawayo Thermal Power Station, which has a capacity of 120MW is not producing any power at all. Similarly, Munyati is producing only 16MW yet it has a capacity of 120MW, with Harare Thermal Power station producing just 12MW whilst its capacity is 75MW. This is an indication for the country to phase out coal and move towards clean renewable energy sources.
Taking on a huge financial burden for the construction of a new coal power plant against a background where the world is moving away from coal is a risk that the country cannot afford to take. The Government of Zimbabwe has been promoting the use of solar energy including solar water heaters which are emerging in the country to an extent that the conventional ones are gradually being phased out due to lack of support for spares and other consumables. Solar powered base stations for charging electrical appliances have been installed through the national telecommunications companies. There has been an increase in the use of solar energy by both domestic and business consumers, so much that the Zimbabwe Power Utility, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC), has taken advantage of this development to come up with a scheme that would allow customers who are generating solar energy on their premises to feed the excess power back into the ZETDC Network through a grid-tied inverter so that the excess generation can be measured and credit units allocated to the generating customer. This will keep the customer in the lower tariff band and reduce the total bill at the end of the month. This Net Metering initiative is beneficial to the power utility and the whole country. Zimbabwe is privileged with more than 3 000 hours of sunlight per year and has a potential to produce 10 000GWh of electrical energy per year if solar energy was to be fully harnessed.
The future of Zimbabwe is in renewables. To support and promote clean renewable energy, and eradicate energy poverty, the country has developed strong policy frameworks for sustainable energy that improves renewable energy regulations, such as the National Renewable Energy Policy. As the coal power industry is dying, both globally and at the national level, the government of Zimbabwe should refrain from unconditionally bailing out the coal industry as that would entrench fossil fuel dependency. Instead, the government should adopt legislation requiring all energy producers within Zimbabwe to phase out coal as soon as possible and no later than 2025 and prohibit in law and in practice, further investments to expand coal exploration, extraction and production including the development of new infrastructure. The Government should provide subsidies for the development of renewable energy sources that respect human rights throughout the entire supply chain. The coal industry in Zimbabwe is struggling and this is the opportune time to stop taking the huge financial burden associated with trying to revive a dying industry.