ZIMBABWE industry could continue running on coal-fired power plants beyond the next three decades, before completely switching to environmentally friendly advanced technologies, a government official said this week.
The global shift from coal, which has been underpinned by fears of escalating climate-change-induced disasters, gained traction during last year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
In an interview with businessDigest, Gloria Magombo, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development said it was important to note that language at the summit was about a gradual decarbonisation, rather than a drastic end.
Decarbonisation means reducing the amount of gaseous carbon compounds released in or as a result of an environment or process, which, in this case would involve burning coal to produce energy.
Zimbabwe, along with several African countries, has massive coalfield endowments.
“Zimbabwe and other African countries have abundant coal and petroleum reserves,” Magombo told businessDigest.
“It has always been our wish to develop the energy sector using all the resources (coal, hydro, gas and other renewables) that we have. The transition to cleaner energy will always consider respective capabilities and national circumstances. We are pleased that at COP26, countries agreed to “phase down” not “phase out” coal in the short to medium term. This allows us time to come up with a decarbonisation strategy in the long term. We believe that in a time frame for up to 30 years, we may significantly move to cleaner and sustainable energy technologies largely based on hydropower, solar, wind and others,” Magombo added.
Government has recently granted several investors the greenlight to exploit coal, which is said by some experts could last the next 500 years.
This has sparked concerns that billions of dollars of investments flowing into coal mines and power plants could be wasted, if the drumbeat against coal grows louder.
The biggest such projects are taking shape at Hwange thermal power station, which is undergoing a US$1,6 billion refurbishment.
The project is one of several which authorities say would lift Zimbabwe out of its current power shortages.
Magombo said developed countries had so much to do to assist smaller economies.
“We believe that developed countries should assist developing countries through ‘loss and damage’ or other financial packages as we decarbonise our economies,” she said.
“Also, with continued research and development we are seeing a lot of new inventions that can use carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides (NOx) gases as inputs to fertiliser production plants. We believe there are still options to use coal and other fossils with minimum damage to the environment,” Magombo added.
The country will prioritise the implementation of its renewable energy policy, along with procuring new plants to accelerate the use of renewable energy technologies.
She added that the Zambezi basin presents a lot of potential with multiple gorges being prioritised for power development including Batoka Gorge, Devils Gorge, Mupata Gorge and others.
Other new energy sources being considered include solar PV, wind and green hydrogen.
The energy sector is in transition, with new forms of energy being explored. Zimbabwe says it is ready to embrace this change, working closely with newly established innovation hubs.