Energy Insight: Zimbabwe's fuel and energy problems

In the middle of January 2019, rioting broke out in Zimbabwe as people protested at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s overnight doubling of the price of petrol. Petrol prices rose from $1.24 (£0.97) a litre to $3.31, and diesel from $1.36 to $3.11. Maximum pump prices allowable are published on the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) website.
Petrol shortages, according to the President, were being caused by an increase in the use of fuel, and illegal trading, and the increase in price is necessary to mitigate the shortage. 
Some Zimbabweans (October 2018) have been importing Tesla electric vehicles, both as an investment, and also due to the petrol and diesel shortages.  

Where does Zimbabwe’s road fuel come from?

Zimbabwe has neither oil nor gas reserves of its own, so has no refinery. It is completely landlocked by Zambia to the northwest, Botswana to the south west, South Africa to the south and Mozambique to the east.

Instead, refined petroleum products are imported. In 2016 (IEA figures) 326,000 metric tonnes of petrol, 619,000 tonnes of diesel; 43,000 tonnes of aviation fuel and 59,000 tonnes of other types of kerosene were imported. 90% of petroleum products come via the Feruka Oil Pipeline from Mozambique, which has the nearest coastline.  
The Zimbabwe government was reported (October 2018) to be in talks with foreign companies interested in constructing a second pipeline. But there is reportedly enough capacity in the Feruka Oil Pipeline to meet the current demand for petrol and diesel. The problem seems to be a lack of foreign currency to pay for it.
Petroleum products via the existing pipeline are stored at Msasa in Harare for distribution to other National Oil Infrastructure Company of Zimbabwe (NOIC) depots and customers.

How do people and goods get around Zimbabwe?


The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) operates a rail network over 2,760 kilometers of route. There are still some steam trains running – having proved popular with tourists – and a photo of one is shown on NRZ’s website. 5,000 tonnes of coal were used by the railways in 2016. But most trains are now powered by diesel. In March 2018 it was reported that NRZ are planning, as part of its “rehabilitation programme of its infrastructure” for the electrification of its railway network but initially diesel locomotives will be purchased. In the past the railway line between Harare and Gweru was electrified, but failed as the copper wire was stolen. They don’t plan to re-electrify until a solution to vandalism is found.

As well as carrying passengers, 3.1 million tonnes of freight was moved by rail in 2017.

Roads – buses, taxis and cars

According to the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) there are 1.2 million vehicles in Zimbabwe – including 170,000 unregistered vehicles. The government is planning to de-register unlicensed vehicles. (A list of all unlicenced vehicles (but not what type they are) is available on ZINARA’s website). Licence fees have also increased recently.  

The licence revenue is intended for road maintenance carried out by Road Authorities. Licence rates depend upon the weight of the vehicle rather than what type it is.

The latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) – actually to do with road traffic accidents – show that in 2007, 78% of road vehicles were motorcars; 5% minibuses, vans etc; 7% trucks and 1% buses.

With a working-aged population of about 8.5 million people only about one in seven Zimbabweans will own a car.

The Department of Computer Science, University of Zimbabwe, has carried out a motor vehicle inventory for Zimbabwe showing that 70% of light road vehicles in 2016 were fueled by petrol, and just under 30% by diesel.

What about their electricity supply?


Zimbabwe does have coal, and in 2015 (UN figures) produced 3,994,000 metric tonnes, most of which was used within Zimbabwe.

The CIA reports that an estimated 58% of installed electricity generation capacity comes from fossil fuels (2016); 37% from hydroelectric plants (2017); 5% from other renewables (2017) but 0% from nuclear.  In 2016 (IEA figures) they generated 7,055 GWH of electricity, but still had to import 2,220 GWH.


But there is a problem with their hydroelectric plants.

There has been a severe drought in southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, for a few years, and another drought for the 2018-2019 rainy season is expected. 

Kariba Hydro Power Station generated 750MW at the start of 2015, but this had shrunk to 475MW by December 2018 due to reduced water levels at the dam. 

Electricity supply

Electricity is imported from their neighbouring countries South Africa and Mozambique.  

Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) has asked for an immediate 49% increase in the tariff they charge as they are paying more for their imported electricity than they are selling it for (report on the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe website 3 February 2019). It is hoped that the tariff increase will “improve energy efficiency, improve economic activity, service delivery and of cause [sic] reduced load shedding.”
At peak demand times, load shedding (ie power-cuts) has to be executed as supply cannot meet demand – and this happens to various districts on a rota system, which is published on the ZESA holdings website  

Besides hydro are there any other renewables used for energy?

Zimbabwe is a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement, and is therefore keen to expand its uptake of renewables for generating electricity.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), in 2015, identified, through their Africa Clean Energy Corridor initiative, solar photovoltaics, concentrating solar power and wind energy as possible renewable sources of energy for Zimbabwe.

5% of electricity produced in Zimbabwe came from renewables in 2017.

The ZERA website lists 26 recommended solar companiesSolar energy has been used to light football stadiums; provide energy for schools; for street lighting for Harare and to power mobile phone charging stations. Solar power systems can be rented out to whole communities.


Wind power feasibility studies were to be carried out in 2017 on the three sites thought to have the greatest potential, but the high costs quoted for the studies were considered by ZERA to be beyond the available budget.

Further information

National Oil Infrastructure Company of Zimbabwe (NOIC) “is in the business of pipeline transportation of petroleum products as well as storage and handling in the Company’s depots.” 

Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (ZERA) “is mandated to regulate the entire energy sector in Zimbabwe in a fair, transparent, efficient and cost effective manner for the benefit of the consumers and energy suppliers.”

Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) “are committed to the provision of quality electricity, engineering and telecommunication services to customers throughout Zimbabwe and the region, at competitive prices whilst creating value for our stakeholders”

World Energy Statistics 2018. IEA, 2018  

2015 Energy Statistics yearbook. UN, 2017

International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)  Africa Clean Energy Corridor 

CIA World Factbook Zimbabwe 

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