Natural Gas: An alternative source of electricity generation in Zimbabwe￼
By Gerald Macheka
After solar, natural gas has become one of the world’s fastest-growing primary energy sources, and most countries are looking into ways to use it to generate power.
Turkmenistan, Qatar and Bahrain are examples of countries that generate practically 100 percent of their electricity from natural gas. In addition, ten countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, Brunei, the United Arab Emirates, Belarus, Oman, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Moldova, and Singapore, generate 91-99.6% of their power from natural gas, while Bangladesh and Nigeria generate more than 80%. Some African countries, such as Zimbabwe and Namibia, have lately discovered natural gas reserves on their land. The United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran are among the notable countries that use gas to generate electricity.
As economies grow, Africa’s overall energy consumption is expected to increase at double the rate of the global average population. As a result, the continent is increasingly choosing energy security over reaching emissions objectives and developing economies using fossil fuels. The following graph depicts the top African countries in terms of proven natural gas reserves. These are some of the African countries that could benefit from investing in natural gas as a source of electricity.
Zimbabwe has been plagued by rolling blackouts for years. Consumers have been spending many hours without power. The problem of power interruptions must be addressed in order to increase the sector’s capacity. The country’s current power deficit is caused by a lack of generation capacity compared to demand. If additional power production capacity is not made available, South Africa, just south of the border, will likely be subject to rounds of load shedding through 2022 and possibly beyond. Eskom, the South African power provider, continues to make efforts to maintain and repair infrastructure; nonetheless, unanticipated incidents such as unit breakdowns are likely to occur, forcing Eskom to use load shedding to avoid a total blackout.
While load shedding and unscheduled disruptions are occurring, temporary commercial and communications disruptions are likely; cellular and mobile services may be disrupted. Due to malfunctioning traffic lights, traffic interruptions and increased driving times are possible at certain times. Power outages may also cause crucial services like ATMs and gas stations to become temporarily unavailable. During power outages, there is a greater security risk. During blackouts, security mechanisms such as alarm systems and electronic fences may be compromised, and opportunistic criminal behaviour may escalate.
Due to insufficient capacity or to avoid a countrywide blackout, load shedding entails turning off segments of the country’s electric system in a planned and controlled manner.
Load shedding tends to occur in 4 stages:
Stage-1 load shedding: Allows for the removal of up to 1,000MW of electricity from the electrical grid, resulting in power outages in the affected area three times in four days for two hours each time, or three times in eight days for four hours each time.
Stage-2 load shedding: Allows for the removal of up to 2,000MW of electricity from the electrical grid, resulting in power outages in the affected area six times over the course of four days for two hours each time, or six times over the course of eight days for four hours each time.
Stage-3 load shedding: Allows for the removal of up to 3,000MW of electricity from the electrical grid, resulting in power outages in the affected area nine times over the course of four days for two hours each time, or nine times over the course of eight days for four hours each time.
Stage-4 load shedding: Allows for the removal of up to 4,000MW from the power grid, resulting in power outages in the impacted area 12 times over the course of four days for two hours each time, or 12 times over the course of eight days for four hours each time.
Across the Zimbabwean border, Eswatini’s power company is gauging interest in building infrastructure that will allow the southern African kingdom to tap into gas from neighbouring Mozambique to create electricity.
According to a research provided by The Eswatini Electric Company, they are exploring installing pipelines or trucking gas from Mozambique to supply gas-fired turbines, with other uses for the fuel in the commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors.
Natural gas is extracted from beneath the surface of the earth, treated, and piped to power plants. Power plants either employ a boiler to generate steam, which is then used to spin a turbine to generate electricity, or they use a combustion turbine to generate a rotating mass that generates energy.
Where Zimbabwe stands
As the Muzarabani gas exploration project has demonstrated, Zimbabwe contains trillions of cubic meters of gas that can be leveraged and used for electricity generation to assist alleviate challenges associated with the country’s hydroelectricity facilities.
Natural gas has the potential to become the country’s primary source of electricity generation, providing the country with stable power 24 hours a day (also known as baseload power) and assisting in meeting peak electrical demands.
The majority of Zimbabwe’s electricity is generated by hydroelectric power. For cooking and lighting, 80-90 percent of residents in rural areas of the country rely on wood fuel and kerosene. Exploring gas as an alternate source of energy generation could go a long way towards electrifying majority of the country.
This project has the potential to make Zimbabwe energy self-sufficient while simultaneously boosting economic growth.
The Muzarabani prospect, according to Invictus, is Africa’s largest undrilled conventional oil and gas onshore possibility, with potential resources of 9,25 trillion cubic feet of gas and 294 million barrels of condensate. The project is a multi-trillion cubic foot conventional gas-condensate target with a high liquid content. It could be the world’s largest undrilled seismic structure on land in Africa. Last year, Invictus Energy Limited (IEL) conducted a 2D Seismic Survey of the Cabora Bassa area located in the northern part of the country, as part of its exploration into the area to find potential gas and oil deposits.
Invictus plans to begin drilling forest exploratory wells on its Muzarabani license area in June, which will aid in determining the quality and quantity of gas found in the area.
According to independent estimates, the Cabora Bassa basin contains 9.25 trillion cubic feet and 294 million barrels of condensate.
As research shows, it takes about takes 0.01003 Mcf (1,000 cubic feet) of natural gas to make 1 kWh.
Zimbabwe uses about 7.12 billion kWh of electricity annually and with the trillions of cubic feet of gas reserves that the country holds, this might equate to years of flawless electricity generation (71,413,600 million cubic feet of gas is needed to produce 7.12 kWh).
Natural gas has a lot of uses. A gas-fired power plant starts and stops much faster than a coal-fired unit. This adaptability makes it an excellent complement to renewable energy sources like solar and wind, which are only available when the sun shines and the wind blows.
The country’s power stations have had problems remodelling, repairing, and repairing breakdowns due to seasonal rainfall, and this constant back and forth has rendered the electricity grid more unstable, necessitating an alternate, permanent solution.
However, disagreements about whether this type of energy can be deemed clean continue to rage around the world. Essentially, the decision to use natural gas as an energy source has been hailed and questioned in equal measure.
Natural gas contributes to climate change by emitting carbon dioxide during combustion, but it is cleaner than other energy sources such as coal.
Germany’s current government coalition stated in a letter to the European Commission (EU) that gas is needed as a temporary energy source until adequate renewables are available.
The EU has designated gas as sustainable, but some have labelled the move “greenwashing” and fear it might jeopardize the bloc’s goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.
This article was written in collaboration with Faith Nyaude
Macheka is a financial analyst/economist at Equity Axis, a leading financial research firm in Zimbabwe- firstname.lastname@example.org