Factbox: Where are we with the Hwange power projects?

The Hwange power plant expansion project will add 600MW to the national grid.

By Nelson Banya

Although the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority hopes the country will generate 1,100MW from non-hydro renewable energy sources by 2025, Zimbabwe’s best chance for electricity near-term self-sufficiency lies on the vast coalfields of Hwange, where nearly 1,000MW in new generation capacity is at various stages of development.

Zimbabwe currently generates about 1,200MW from its old power plants, less than its peak demand of about 1,400MW.

During his 41st independence anniversary speech on Sunday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa gave an update on ongoing power generation projects.

At what stages are these projects? How big are they? How are they being funded? What are the timelines? Here is a newZWire penpix of some key power projects currently underway in Hwange:

Hwange 7 and 8 expansion project

The Hwange thermal power plant is currently made up of six units which were commissioned in phases between 1983 and 1987, with capacity to generate 920MW (four units of 120MW each and two units generating 220MW each).

Before the Kariba power station upgrade added 300MW to the 750MW hydro-electrical plant in March 2018, the Hwange thermal station was the country’s biggest.

Mainly due to ageing equipment, the Hwange plant has not fired from all its installed plants for a while. Currently, only four units are in service, generating less than a quarter of capacity.

According to latest generation statistics, Hwange was generating 330MW on Monday, up from 176MW on Friday.

To fix this diminishing capacity due to frequent breakdowns of its antiquated plants, the government is adding two new units, 7 and 8, at a cost of US$1,1 billion.

Dubbed the Hwange 7 and 8 project, the expansion will add 600MW to the plant’s existing capacity.

The new cooling tower shell at Hwange, right, has since been completed

China’s Export-Import Bank has extended a US$998 million loan towards the project, with Zimbabwe borrowing an additional US$76 million from the African Export Import Bank and another US$40 million from the Chinese-owned Standard Bank of South Africa to make up its equity contribution to the project. Chinese-funded projects typically require a 15% contribution from the beneficiary government.

According to Mnangagwa, the Hwange 7 and 8 expansion project is now 61% complete.

In terms of the schedule, the first of the two units is expected to be commissioned in October 2021, adding 300MW to the grid. The second unit is expected to add another 300MW to national supplies by January 2022.

In its last update in February, the Zimbabwe Power Company said COVID-19 and payment delays had pushed the project off schedule. 

“At the end of the (2020 fourth) quarter, construction of the Hwange 7 and 8 expansion project was at 58,29% against a target of 78,5%, yielding an unfavourable variance of 17,51%. This was mainly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the outstanding IPC (Interim Payment Certificate) payments on the 85% by China Exim Bank,” ZPC said. 

Hwange life extension project:

The existing Hwange thermal plant’s units are between 34 and 38 years old.

The government has secured a US$310 million loan from India’s Export and Import Bank to extend the life of the six old units by up to 25 years.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube sought and obtained Parliamentary approval for the Indian loan early March 2021.

Enhancing the life of the old units would take up to five years, but would restore generation to 880MW, or 96% of the plant’s initial capacity.

Combined with the two new units 7 and 8, Hwange would have a total of 1,480MW, just about matching the country’s current demand.

As part of he Hwange power plan, this Sherwood sub-station near Kwekwe is being rebuilt

Hwange Units 3 and 6:

Currently, the plant is running on units 1, 2, 4 and 5, which generate a combined 300MW on good days.

Work on units 3 and 6 has been underway to bring an additional 280MW back online.

The revamp of unit 6 has been estimated to cost just under US$4 million, while unit 6 has been earmarked for a major overhaul that could cost US$28 million.

Deka pipeline upgrade:

The Hwange power plant requires significant quantities of water for its cooling process.

This water is sourced from the Zambezi river, through a 42 kilometre pipeline.

Currently, the plant uses 3,500 cubic metres of water per hour.

However, the plant’s water requirements will almost double after its capacity is expanded.

This means the pipeline infrastructure has to be upgraded as well to meet the increase in power generation.

India’s Export-Import Bank is also funding this project, which has a total estimated cost of US$48 million. 

Mnangagwa during a July 2020 tour of the Zimbabwe ZhongXin thermal plant in Hwange. The plant is on the verge of adding 25MW of its design capacity of 320MW to the national grid.

Zimbabwe ZhongXin Electrical Energy plant:

Under the radar, independent power producer Zimbabwe ZhongXin Coking Company has been developing a 320MW coal-fired plant in Hwange. The company, a joint venture between Qualisave Mineral Resources – a Zimbabwean military investment vehicle – and China’s Yuxia ZhongXin Coking Company, is on the verge of adding 25MW to the national grid. The initial phase of the ZhongXin plant is 97% complete.

The first phase of the ZhongXin plant project targets 50MW, with 320MW being the ultimate goal. The company is currently installing a 15 kilometre power line to link its plant to the ZPC’s substation in Hwange. 

Coal supply plans:

Demand for coal is set to increase when the two new units come on stream and the refurbishments are done.

Makomo Resources, one of the largest coal producers, plans to increase output. Two new companies, Chilota Coal and Western Coal, also expect to start coal production this year.

In the first half of last year, Hwange Colliery increased coal production by 84%, but old debts continue to weigh on plans by the country’s oldest coal miner to reverse years of decline. In order to run profitably, Hwange needs to produce 200,000 tonnes of coal per month, which is double its current output. The company has started a recapitalisation programme that, if successful, would raise production by 50%.

Contango, a UK company that has recently invested in the Lubu coal fields, is focused on producing coking coal, but half of its indicated 702 metric tonne resource is said to be thermal coal.