Coke Production and Electricity Generation – The Relevance of Coal mining in Zimbabwe Amidst Climate Change
By Calvin Manika
Driving off the Bulawayo –Victoria Falls road, taking a turn at St Marys Cathedral in Hwange rural, the dust road is busy with vehicular traffic, mostly haulage trucks bringing raw coal to while others collecting processed coke from the Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coking Company (ZZCC). The company is located in the periphery of Diki village in Lukosi, Hwange. The production of coke is giving coal a value to investors in the industry and attracting more coking companies.
Coke is a by-product of coal among others like tar and gas. However, because of the high market price of coke, most of the start-ups mining companies in the coal rich Hwange are investing in coke batteries. Interestingly companies like ZZCC and Dinson Colliery are doing both coking and electricity generation, with the later on a small scale. The increase in coal related activities is coming on the backdrop of the possible ban of the fossil rock in a near future amidst issues of climate change and climate justice.
When countries went to Conference of Parties on Climate Change (CoP 26) in November 2021, the issue on the use of coal seems to be a done clause of the agreement – coal use must be banned. In an unexpected turn of events, the Conference of Parties (CoP 26) concluded otherwise – coal can be used to certain limited levels. Coal, a mineral which was facing an exit from the market suddenly was given a lifeline. The influence came from India and the United States, which are major coal users and alleged heavy environmental polluters. According to the Conference of Parties, China, Japan, India, and the United States account of over 75 percent of global coal use.
The proliferation of coke production companies in Hwange is encouraging coal miners to continue mining the black rock as there is a readily setup market. The mining of coal in Zimbabwe is mainly done in Hwange. Hwange Colliery has the biggest reserves in the country and SADC which can last up to 1000 years at the current production levels.
In addition of emerging coke production companies, Hwange is home to the biggest thermal power station in Zimbabwe, the Hwange Power Station, an electricity generation plant with an installed capacity of 920MW. The plant is faced several challenges resulting in failing to give the anticipated power output. However, the power station extension projects are under construction. The project site manager Engineer Forbes Chanakira while presenting the overview of the Hwange Expansion Project said it aims at generating 600 megawatts (2x300MW).
“According to the baseline schedule, the first (300MW) unit was supposed to be on commercial operation on October 2021 while, the second (300MW) unit with the same capacity on January 2022. However, due to the effects of COVID–19 pandemic, the completion has been re-scheduled to July and September 2022 respectively,” said Chanakira.
The ban of coal in Zimbabwe would have many consequences in the country which is already failing to sufficiently provide electricity. The disruption in the industries and manufacturing plants will have a direct impact to the growth of the economy.
The Paris Agreement in 2015 noted that, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, coal is responsible for 30 percent of global emissions and a major contributor to the air pollution that takes a devastating toll on the health of local populations.
In November 2021, 190 countries committed to phasing out coal power in the major economies in the 2030s, and everyone else in the 2040s. The China-US joint agreement announced on 11 November 2021 reiterated a previous pledge to move away from international support for unabated coal power and committed China to “phase down” coal consumption between 2021 and 2026. However, the agreement did not include tangible, time-bound commitments to actually end coal use, a situation which gives the use of coal a lifeline.
The final Glasgow climate pact called for the accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power. It is the first time coal has been explicitly addressed in a COP agreement. Yet an eleventh-hour intervention by India that resulted in the substitution of the phrase “phasedown” in place of “phase out,” diminished the significance of its inclusion.
A third clause of the final Glasgow agreement aims to halt construction of new unabated coal-fired power plants, to stop the issuance of permits for such facilities, and to cease “new direct government support for unabated international coal-fired power generation.” Late last year the government of China announced that it was ceasing financing coal related investments in foreign countries. The announcement comes at a time Zimbabwe’s major foreign capital investment is coming from China including the Hwange thermal power station expansion project which will be coal-fired.
In emerging economies like Zimbabwe, the market context is entirely different. Electricity demand is typically rising. There have been no significant investments in clean renewable energy sources in Zimbabwe, with only a few solar plants in their formative stages. The country remains heavily relying on coal for electricity generation. Thermal power is even more to be used given climate change effects like low rainfall and high temperatures which affect the levels of water for the Kariba hydro power station. Kariba Hydro Power Station is the main source of electricity in Zimbabwe.
It is hard to shut down coal facilities because few countries have sufficient spare capacity in their electricity systems to be able to do so. And this equation becomes immensely more complicated when considering the broader coal ecosystem—the jobs in mining, transportation, and generation. Climate Change expert and environmentalist, Daniel Sithole notes that, Zimbabwe and other countries in the Global South are on the receiving end.
“We are not actually the major polluters, the emissions from our use of coal are just a drop in the ocean compared to the developed economies. However, if coal is to be banned we will be just victims and our systems are not yet ready for the transition due to the capital investment required,” says Sithole Director of Shango Trust.