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Zimbabwe is rich in minerals, including gold, platinum and chrome. It also has the largest African lithium deposits, which are crucial in producing electric vehicle batteries.
But power blackouts have hobbled the southern African country’s mining industry for years, and it may have to revise its bullish production targets due to worsening power blackouts.
Zimbabwe’s main electricity source is hydropower from Lake Kariba on the Zambezi River, but climate change-induced droughts, which result in low water levels, have forced a drastic reduction in energy generation.
Mining accounted for three-quarters of Zimbabwe’s export earnings in 2022 and the government has an ambitious plan to export $12 billion in minerals this year.
However, rolling blackouts — also called load shedding — have impacted production, according to Collin Chibafa, the president of the Chamber of Mines Zimbabwe.
“About 88% of our members are experiencing at least six hours of load shedding daily,” Chibafa said. “That would impact the level of production that comes out.” Some mines experience blackouts for as long as 12 hours a day, he added.
While some mines have built their own solar power plants, they only provide power for a few hours. And others have opted for environmentally unfriendly diesel generators, Chibafa said. “Obviously that’s an expensive and the least viable option. If you have people underground, they need ventilation, they need oxygen.”
Mining companies can also import power directly from other countries, under a deal facilitated by the regional utility organization, called the Southern African Power Pool, or SAPP.
“We allow large customers to become members of SAPP [so that] a large mine can buy power from the market instead of from the local utility,” said Steven Dihwa, SAAP’s executive director.
While the Zimbabwean government remains optimistic it will achieve its $12 billion target by the end of this year, economist Victor Bhoroma is skeptical.
“One of the key challenges is the provision of power to the mines,” Bhoroma said. “When you have electricity challenges, it puts a dent in achieving that target.”
Zimbabwe’s government is offering incentives to encourage private investment in solar and hydropower to ease the power crisis. There is also talk of a new hydroelectric facility upstream from Lake Kariba. But even if that plan takes off, building a power station takes years.
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