How ‘energy transition’ will impact Zimbabwe this decade

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electric car 954558336 iStock PlargueDoctor
electric car 954558336 iStock PlargueDoctor
Tapiwanashe Mangwiro

HARARE – In the just started 2021/30-decade, fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) will continue to lose global market share as the world energy supply and demand transition to low carbon renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear etc).

Global energy transition is already happening and is expected to gain momentum from 2021. Zimbabwe, which mostly relies on foreign aid for its energy resources development, will not be spared the ongoing transition.

The prime drivers for the energy transition are a multitude of globalised efforts and strategies for climate change solutions aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

These solutions are anchored in fast-evolving energy technologies which continue to improve renewable energy applicability and economics; ready investor capital for low carbon investments, strong climate change lobbies, and enabling environmental and energy policies by governments around the world.

In Zimbabwe, energy transition is already happening as the country is gradually investing  in more renewable energy projects through public-private programmes and 100% government projects such as the Batoka Gorge project among other projects (geothermal and solar).

High carbon coal is still being used in the country and will be hard to abolish as government is in the process of building Hwange 7 and 8 thermal stations. However with the trajectory of international funding prospects, coal is now a condemned input for national power generation and aid might depend on its use in the current decade.

In Zimbabwe, leaving coal buried in the ground is far from becoming a reality, not imaginable in the next few years. A trend being experienced by traditional fossil fuel low income countries around the world.

However, should Zimbabwe develop its natural gas it would be accommodated into the power generation mix as this resource is considered a relatively low carbon transition energy resource.

In 2021, the most impactful game-changer for energy transition will be Joe Biden’s US presidency. Specifically, the appointment of Secretary John Kelly as the climate-change envoy will accelerate US return to global climate change platforms after four-year absence, speeding up global energy transition.

Under Biden, US oil majors ExxonMobil and Chevron are expected to join their European counterparts (BP, Shell, Total and ENI) in the ongoing energy transition. And by the end of the decade, these companies are likely to rebrand from “oil companies” to “energy companies” investing and trading in both oil/gas and renewable energy. And any prospective multinational oil and gas company doing business in Zimbabwe will likely change accordingly.

Perhaps the most revolutionary energy technology in 2021/30 will be large-scale battery storage technology which will permit storage of intermittent renewable (solar and wind) power generation for input into grid systems during peak demands.

Already battery storage systems of more than 300MW capacity have been achieved. In future, these batteries will likely be a “must” for newly licensed solar plants to permit effective grid integration.

Zimbabwe energy regulators, planners and investors need to accommodate and plan for the expected energy supply and demand scenarios in 2021/30. EVs will come and we need to plan for them. Large-scale energy storage batteries will be part of future power generation investment packages.

Economic common sense supports use of Hwange coal for industrial purposes, until effective renewable energy technologies are developed for industrial heating.

By 2030 the energy sector in the world and possibly in Zimbabwe will look vastly different, mostly driven by climate change solutions and capital.

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