As ZESA fails, these major power-hungry mining investments in Zimbabwe are bringing their own energy

Caledonia's new 12MW Blanket Mine solar plant
Blanket Mine's 12MW solar farm: Govt wants ferrochrome producers to follow suit

When the Chamber of Mines asked its members to list their biggest worries this year, most of them had one major gripe at the top of their lists – power supply.

The Chamber’s survey of members, which include some of Zimbabwe’s major miners, found that some 60% of respondents had faced power cuts of up to six hours a day. About 28% reported outages averaging up to 12 hours each day. The power crisis has since worsened since then.

Most miners have dedicated power lines to their mines, a facility that was meant to “ring-fence” them from outages. Yet, according to the survey, while 69% of surveyed miners did have these dedicated lines, all of them reported unscheduled power cuts.  

The crisis saw 68% of them reporting losses of up to 20% of their production potential.

Mining investment is growing, with new mines coming up and existing miners expanding operations. According to ZESA, it has applications of 2350MW of new connections, with most of them from mines. But there is not enough power to match the demand.

So, what are these miners doing about it? Many are building their own power.

Here are some of the solar projects going up in the mining industry.

Zimplats

Last year, Zimplats announced US$1.8 billion in extra investment into Zimbabwe, to develop new mines and processing. It needs more power to do this, and has been granted licenses to build two solar power plants at its Ngezi and at the Selous processing plant. Combined, Zimplats will invest US$201 million to generate 185MW of power.

Zimplats Zimbabwe mining
Zimplats’ Ngezi concentrator will be powered by solar

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Zimplats has also recently partnered with DPA, the green energy arm of Cassava Smartech, to install rooftop solar at its offices at the new Bimha mine.

Zimplats to build 200MW solar power plant at platinum operations

Karo Mining

Karo Mining has started building a new mine near Selous, investing US$391 million for development. Part of the project is a 300MW solar plant to supply the mine, which is expected to start production in 2024. Tharisa, Karo’s holding company, has signed an MoU with French energy company Total Eren and Chariot Energy for 30MWp, the first stage of the project. The two companies are also partners in developing a 40 MWp solar plant at Tharisa’s existing platinum and chrome mine in South Africa. Land has been allocated for the Karo solar farm and the company will feed excess energy into the national grid.

Caledonia Mining

Blanket Mine has recently switched on its new 12MW solar plant. Construction of the solar plant started in 2021, after Caledonia raised US$13 million from a share sale. The power plant will eventually supply 27% of Blanket’s power needs and cut Caledonia’s cost of production.

Mimosa

Mimosa Platinum plans to invest an additional US$200 million into Zimbabwe, developing new mining areas, building a new tailings dam and improving processing efficiencies. To meet demand for power at its mine in Zvishavane, the company plans to build a 38MW solar plant.

Manhize

Tsingshan, the world’s largest stainless steel company, is building a new steel plant at Manhize, in the Midlands. Steel plants are power-hungry. According to ZESA boss Sydney Gata: “It (Manhize) will be the largest customer project for ZESA, requiring up to 500MW in the next two years, which is equivalent to almost a third of today’s national consumption.”

A view of the site of a section the new Manhize steel plant

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In the project plan is a 300MW power station at the site. But the company still needs ZESA, and has entered into an arrangement to fund a 97km high-voltage power line from Sherwood to the plant. Tsingshan will extend a US$66 million loan to ZESA, to be repaid through offsets on future power bills.

FACT BOX: Tsingshan is building a US$1bn steel plant in Zimbabwe. Here is what we know about the project

RioZim

RioEnergy, the RioZim energy arm, has been awarded licenses to install 180MW of solar power at the gold miner’s operations. The plan is to put up four separate solar parks of 45MW each at RioZim’s three gold mines – Renco Mine in Nyajena, Dalny Mine in Chakari, Cam and Motor Mine in Kadoma, and ​​also at the Murowa Diamonds Mine near Zvishavane.