|Fig. 1: The Kariba Dam, which provides Zimbabwe with much of its hydropower, as seen from Zimbabwe. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country with an energy profile mainly divided amongst wood fuel (61%), petroleum (18%), electricity (13%), and coal (8%).  Almost 67.6% of the population of the population lives in the rural areas, where tilling the land is the predominant lifestyle.  However, Zimbabwe's urban population is growing at a rate of 2.03%, which places a burden on the already strained infrastructure and resources of cities.  Zimbabwe's economy is centered around agriculture and mining, which has created a strained financial situation in the country due to the erratic nature of mineral prices and difficulty of access to external credit sources. Electrical access is extremely polarized in Zimbabwe. Approximately 80% of the urban population has access to electricity while it is only 21% in rural areas. 
Zimbabwe's electrical grid is sorely in need of maintenance and upgrades, which has led to a disparity between the supply and demand of electrical energy. While the total demand for electricity is 2029 MW, the supply is only around 1200 MW.  This disparity is also created by the outdated status of the electrical power stations. Zimbabwe's electrical power is generated by two methods: coal and hydropower. None of the coal powered plants (Hwange, Bulawayo, Harare, Munyati) meet their advertised power output. The Hwange plant boasts an installed capacity of 920 MW (megawatts), yet it only produces about 400-500 MW.  Even worse, the rest of the coal plants rarely generate electricity. Coal production is further complicated by the fact that Zimbabwe only has 502 tons of coal reserves left as of the end of 2017.  This amount does not suffice to keep providing the energy necessary for its plants and burgeoning population. While coal production has gone up 8.7% in 2017, the increase in production will be pointless if reserves are not adequately managed. [1,2] Hydropower is nearly the same story, except that the Kariba South Bank station, shown in Fig. 1, is well maintained and efficient.  As a result of the unreliability of national energy production, many citizens have turned to more independent means of energy production: solar power and wood fuel.
Solar power accounts for a rather small sector of independent energy production. Only 18% of households have solar panels (this figure does not specify the amount of solar panels per residence), while the majority of the population uses wood fuel.  66.8% of the population uses wood fuel, and only 32.8% of the population has access to modern fuel (kerosene, electricity, or gas), which implies that wood power is the main source of fuel for much of the population and nearly all of the rural population.  The over reliance on wood fuel has led to deforestation issues across Zimbabwe. To make matters even worse, Zimbabwe is contractually obligated under to provide Nambia with 150 MW of energy, which has generated a need to import energy from neighbors Mozambique and South Africa.  Zimbabwe's energy imports have climbed steadily from 3.22% of the energy budget in 2009 to 15% of the energy budget in 2013.  Without a doubt, Zimbabwe's energy infrastructure is in dire need of massive improvements in order to stabilize and centralize the nation's domestic energy output.
The renewable energy potential of Zimbabwe is revolves around 3 main aspects: hydropower, solar power, and biogas. The majority of Zimbabwe's hope for hydropower lies along the Zambezi river. The country currently meets 80% of its hydropower demands from the Kariba South Bank power station on the Zambezi river, and the potential hydropower that can be derived from the Zambezi river is estimated to be around 18600 GWh per annum.  The main obstacles to stable hydropower production are the underdeveloped electrical grid of the country, lack of funding to build and maintain more stations, and volatile weather conditions from climate change. Solar power in Zimbabwe is mostly found within individual homes, but there is potential for larger private or public ventures. Solar radiation averages 16 MJ / meter squared during the winter to around 22 MJ / meter squared in midsummer.  Much like hydropower, large scale solar power is limited by a lack of capital to build plants. Zimbabwe has multiple municipal sewage plants that create biogas from both human and animal waste, but most of it is flared into the open air.  In the future, plants could be adapted to better handle biogas storage and usage.
Zimbabwe's current energy policy, the National Energy Policy, is focused on rural electrification, promoting small, decentralized initiatives to transition to clean energy, and diversifying national energy supply options.  The Ministry of Energy and Power Development has stressed the proliferation of renewables and electric power to rural areas for practical purposes such as land irrigation and small cottage industries.  On a very large scale, the National Energy Policy Implementation Strategy (NEPIS) sought to create an agency to oversee the development of rural parts of Zimbabwe.  In 2002, Parliament passed the Rural Electrification Fund Act, which mandated the complete electrification of rural Zimbabwe via government stipends and electrification levies.  Consequently, this act led to the birth of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA). The REA has put forth the Rural Energy Master Plan, a blueprint for the development of environmentally and economically viable electric grid and renewable energy development which was set to launch in 2017 but has now been pushed back.  A new National Energy Policy is expected to be presented to Parliament during the 2017 session. This new policy is expected to identify target potential models to balance national grid development and decentralized energy production.  Overall, Zimbabwe's main challenges in the future will most certainly be transitioning the populace off of wood fuel in a lasting way. This comes down to creating a suitable environment for foreign investments and individual independent energy producers while minimizing the risk of being overrun by transnational interests. If viable large scale renewable initiatives develop along with the basic energy infrastructure of the nation, then Zimbabwe can put itself in a great position to succeed in the future.
© Sean Afshar. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
 C. T. Mzezewa and C. S. Murove, "Renewable Energy Market Entry Study Report - Zimbabwe," Netherlands Enterprise Agency, 17 Jul 17.
 "BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2018," British Petroleum, June 2018.