Zimbabwe: Household Energy Demand and Use

This country synthesis report is based on a detailed country report, which may be accessed through our dynamic report builder is available here.


A Household Energy Demand and Use
B Household Energy Supply
C Household Energy Sector Governace
D Household Energy Information
E Household Energy Case Studies

A. Household energy demand and use


Traditionally meals in Zimbabwe are prepared three times a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). In the morning tea is generally taken with bread. In urban areas, bread is bought form shops whereas in rural areas people are used to bake their own bread. Depending on the season, bread can be substituted by other food: by pumpkins or yams from March to April, and by sweet potatoes from April to June. For lunch and dinner, thick porridge (sadza/pap) is prepared with relish that may include vegetables, meat (mainly chicken or fish) and soup. Other seasonal crops like groundnuts, round nuts, maize cobs etc. can be taken, either boiled or roasted, throughout the day. The daily average energy requirement per person is 30 MJ (Mangwandi 2002, Mika 2001).

While fuels for cooking are relatively diverse (firewood?, electricity, kerosene, coal, LPG?, cow dung, biogas), wood based biomass fuels? clearly stand out as the most important with 62% of the overall households using wood for cooking ;95% of which are in rural areas (CSO 1992)). For cooking, the majority of households use open metal grate wood stoves and only a few households are known to use improved stoves? (In Hurungwe District are more than 500 improved stoves in use and in Masvingo District less than 50, Mangwandi 2002). Though kerosene is usually limited to lighting and quick cooking purposes (breakfast for school children), about13% of households use kerosene for cooking: mainly in pre urban areas. (CSO 1992). Compared with rural areas it is mostly used for cooking in urban areas, its use in rural areas is generally limited to lighting. Kerosene is not easily available in Zimbabwe and quiet expensive which is the most significant constraint against the wider use of kerosene. Besides, special equipment requires further expenditures. This holds true particularly in rural areas, where alternative sources of energy (wood, crop residues and cow dung) can still be used relatively freel. About 24 % of the households in Zimbabwe use electricity for cooking the majority of it ,about 80%, live in urban areas. The usage of coal and LPG for cooking is with less than 1% negligeable (DoE 2001, CSO 1992). The use of cow dung is prominent in some areas close to Harare such as Zvimba and Seke Communal Lands. Biogas is used, but also on a minimal scale.

Electricity is a major source of energy in urban areas, 80% of urban households are connected to the grid, but it plays a minor role in rural low income households, with consumption rates as low as less than 7 % (CSO 1997, DoE 2001). Only about 24 % of total households in Zimbabwe are connected to electricity grid, but even where electricity is available, the costs for cooking are relatively high (electricity fees, prices of the necessary equipment).


Space heating is particularly important in winter from May to August and in summer during rainy periods except in the Eastern Highlands, where it is needed all year round. Normally it is taken as part of the cooking process. Besides, space heating is very common during funerals at night. Data on thermal energy needs are not available.

Wood is the primary source of energy for space heating in rural areas. Every household (100 %) in Zimbabwe uses wood for heating, which is done on open fires (ProBEC 2000). To those with access to electricity, mainly in urban areas, electric heaters are often used. Waste paper burnt in bins in the streets by street children is common.

LPG kerosene and coal are not readily available in Zimbabwe and hence the usage of these resources for space heating is negligible.

Hot water

Warm or hot water, normally raised from 20° Celsius to about 70° Celsius is needed for cooking, personal hygiene and cleaning. Estimates for the average daily consumption of hot water are about 50 liters per household. The corresponding thermal energy requirements are10.5 MJ per household per day.

Wood, kerosene, electricity, solar and biogas are used for boiling water. In general the water is boiled in small tin cans and pots that are used over open fire, on electricity hot plates or kerosene stoves. For the affluent families solar, electric geysers and hot kettles are used.

Among the mentioned energy sources for heating water, wood is the most often used fuel in Zimbabwe.

Kerosene is used by about 13% of the Zimbabwean households for heating water. The available kerosene stoves cannot heat water for large families, since they have only low thermal output and the design cannot accommodate large containers.

About 21% of the Zimbabwean population use electricity for heating water. The usage of electricity is limited since rural household incomes are seasonal and low to cater for the payment of electricity bills. Also the infrastructure such as lines and substations in rural communities is very poor.

The usage of LPG and coal for heating water is negligible in Zimbabwe due to high costs and reduced availability.


Lighting is an important convenience for all households. It is needed in the evening during cooking in kitchens and for studying purposes for schoolchildren and teachers. Energy needs for lighting can be estimated of about 0.3 MJ per day per person (100 gram candle is reported to last on average for two days). Candles and kerosene are the most widely used energy sources for lighting. However, in low income households candles are used for lighting by only 8 % whereas kerosene by 80 % (ProBEC 2000). Thin sticks called "mwenje" are in use for lighting in Mutasa district. Candles are commonly used by civil servants in rural areas, while kerosene in wick lamps is widely used by poor households. Solar lighting is also used, but to an insignificant percentage (Mapako 1997).

The usage of electricity for lighting depends on the availability, the installation costs and the access to grid. Only 24 % of the Zimbabwean population have access to grid electricity and with it the possibility to use it for lighting.

The usage of wood for lighting is very small, about 8%. Country wide figurers are not available and the data is based on a baseline survey conducted in Hurungwe District of Zimbabwe in 1999. Such households that cannot afford to purchase paraffin and candles rely on wood for lighting, but the light output is low and smoke from the fire affects the eyes (ProBEC 2000).

LPG and batteries? (solar systems) are not common as lighting sources and only used in less than 1 % of the households. It is hardly available and the prices for LPG are high. Besides, there exists the social stigma that LPG is dangerous.

Refrigeration and air conditioning

Refrigeration is required for preserving perishables like milk, meat and vegetables. It allows users to buy these perishable products in bulk, which saves money and time. Water and beer are cooled traditionally by storing in gourds or ceramic pots.

The main fuels used for refrigeration are paraffin, LPG and electricity for small upright refrigerators (300 W). Cooler boxes are also used to keep drinks cool. Electricity is the preferred choice for space cooling. Small 50 to 100 W fans are very common.

Communications and entertainment services

Communication services are needed for getting information to and from around the world. Common entertainment services include watching TV, listening to the radio and going to discos. But data on energy needs for communications and entertainment services are not available.

For the majority of low-income households (90 %) batteries are the source of energy for communications and entertainment services (Mika 2001). Energy consumption for fixed line telephones is not considered in this report, because they draw the necessary power from the transmission lines.

However, radios and TVs are also powered by grid electricity. But the low-income households using this energy source for entertainment, are estimated to be less than 21 % (data quoted is only from households that use electricity for cooking). Grid electricity as well as solar energy, if available, are mainly used for battery charging. Indeed the major constraint is the access to electricity, hence grid electricity is still not available for the vast majority of households in Zimbabwe.

Household appliances

Household appliances are required for cooking, heating, providing lighting, ironing, space cooling, refrigeration and power for radio and TV and other electrical gadgets.
Solar energy is sometimes used for charging batteries that are used to power 9 Volt radios and 12 Volts DC lights and black and white TVs. Grid electricity is used for powering refrigerators, irons, TVs and VCRs.

For ironing, red hot charcoal embers from wood fires are used in cast iron charcoal irons in rural areas (100 % of the households). In urban households electrical hot irons are preferred in addition to old cast irons, that are heated on paraffin stoves. Likewise kerosene is sometimes used for ironing (approximately 14 %) in urban areas. Though in rural areas use fuelwood for ironing.

At least 90 % of low income households use batteries for household appliances (Mika 2001).

Whereas grid electricity is used by 21 % of the low income households for household appliances. Although these appliances are required and are often found in low-income households, there are no studies that have been conducted to quantify their occurrence exactly.

Energy for micro-enterprises

A variety of micro-enterprises is operated in Zimbabwe. Small household enterprises provide low cost appropriate services in the fields that include motor vehicle repairs, soap/toiletries making, welding, sheet metal, sewing, knitting, pottery, carpentry, hair dressing, upholstery, catering, sculpture/artwork, grinding, food manufacturing (peanut butter, drinks, oil processing), beer brewing and brick making.

Past studies reported that beer brewing consumed about 5% on average of the total wood used per year by a micro-enterprice . For the production of 2000 bricks 3 m³ of wood are needed. The amount of 2000 bricks is enough to build a kitchen hut (Hancock 1985). An oven fired with wood consumes 500 kg per 100 loaves of bread.

The most common energy resource for micro enterprises is fuelwood that is used on open fires for cooking, beer brewing, curing clay pots, brick curing, soap making and peanut butter processing.

Electrical machines are used for driving carpentry tools, hair dryers, hair cutters, oil processors, grinders, sewing machines and arc welders.

Acetylene gas is used in sheet metal work.

While no data are available on the use of batteries and electricity it can be safely concluded that this must be the exception rather, than the norm, due to the comparatively high price of batteries.

B. Household energy supply


Zimbabwe is moderately forested with around 22% forest cover and an additional 44 % of other wooded land. Areas of closed natural forest are rare, with the predominant vegetation being "miombo" woodland, an association of Brachystegia spiciformis and Julbernardia spp. Mopane (Colophospermum mopane) woodland occurs on the northern Zambezi depression and the Limpopo Valley on the southern border. Small remnants of subtropical high forest remain in the Eastern Highlands. Zimbabwe has established significant areas of plantation forests with the most common species being Pinus patula, Eucalyptus spp. and Acacia mearnsii. Zimbabwe has a well-established network of more than 40 protected areas, including the 1.5 million ha Hwange National Park. Around 12% of Zimbabwe's forest area is protected (FAO).

There is skewed wood availability in Zimbabwe with a deficit in the overcrowded communal lands and excess on commercial land. Known areas of acute wood shortage are Zvimba and Seke communal lands. Forests are used primarily for fuelwood, which satisfies 62 % of domestic energy needs.

Wood supply follows a number of different patterns depending upon how and where the wood is obtained: distance from the source, transport and season. The size and weight of load increases as the distances increases. Wood supply is normally provided by women and children who travel long distances in fetch of wood. A head-load is about 15-20 kg and distances travalled vary up to 10 km. Men are normally involved for cutting big logs or for selling. In most cases they use scotch-carts ehere loads of 400-500 kg can be collected once a month.

While wood continues to be collected freely and virtually at no cost by the rural population, there are some areas where wood is already commercialized due to scarcity. In urban areas fuelwood is purchased through wood vendors who travel to farming and other rural areas to source the wood. Mupfuti (Brachystegia boehimiiis) the most preferred species. However, also where wood is freely accessible, its collection is time consuming and creates considerable physical strain for women and girls, who cover long distance in the collection of firewood. (Hancock 1985, ProBEC, GTZ 2002).

Around 2,163,289 (CSO 1992) Zimbabwean households consume an average of 781,280 toes of wood annually (DoE 2001) for fuel.

Wood-dependent households are mostly (around 90%) located in rural areas. While traditional stove technology is simple and does not require maintenance, it also tends to be inefficient. Improved, fuel-saving stoves may offer a long term remedy, but require some investment and continuous maintenance. The difference in performance may be significant though, with traditional stoves running at around 10 % efficiency, while modern stove models approach 30 %. Improved stoves (ceramic and metal ceramic) are mostly supplied through sales in the market, while mud stoves offer a cheap alternative (and can be self-produced by households).

Crop residues / dung

Dung and crop residues are wood substitutes used for cooking, water heating and space heating, which are mainly used in rural areas where wood is scarce (central and lake zones of Shinyanga, Mwanza, Dodoma and Singida). In households with cattle, people make cow dung cakes and leave them to dry, or they collect dry cow dung on the grazing ranges. During the dry season, when there is not enough grass for grazing, dung also becomes scarce. Crop residues are mainly available during the harvesting season, with considerable regional variation. No data are available on the amount of crop residues / dung used by households (toe per annum). Dung is not commercialized.


Charcoal is a very important source of household energy in urban Tanzania. Studies have shown that about 85% of the urban households depend on charcoal for cooking. Charcoal is produced in rural areas, mainly from trees harvested in natural forests. It is widely distributed by middlemen, who handle truckloads of about 150 bags (30kg each). The supply of charcoal to urban areas is very reliable, and decreases slightly only during the rainy season. Traditionally charcoal is used in metal charcoal stoves with low efficiencies of below 15%. A small, but growing number of households have adopted improved charcoal stoves with higher efficiency rates of more than 30%. The lifetime of traditional metal stoves is about six months, while that of improved stoves is about 18 months. The prices also vary, metal traditional stoves cost about 2 Euro, whereas improved stoves cost about 4 Euro on average.


The use of coal by Tanzanian households is negligible, and does not warrant further analysis.


Kerosene is popular among medium and low-income households, because of its generally convenient way of use in lighting and cooking. Despite its popularity kerosene, is often unsafe because of its hazardous exhausts. About 225,778 cubic meters of kerosene were imported in 1997 mostly for household level consumption. About 260,000 households use kerosene for fuel. Kerosene Stoves are popular because they are relatively cheap, and simple to use. They have efficiency rates of about 45 %. While most kerosene stoves still use outdated wicks and vaporizers, more recent pressure burners are gaining ground among Tanzanian consumers. The main disadvantages of kerosene technology lie in the relatively short life-span of the stoves, and the potential risks of their use (fire hazards, burn injuries).


While LPG is generally thought to have considerable potential as a source of household energy, the lack of distribution infrastructure limits its availability. In the few households where it is used, it is preferred for cooking only. LPG stoves mostly are high-pressure gas cookers - similar to the low pressure ones, except that they are attached directly to the gas bottle. Also LPG stoves are in short supply, and tend to be available mostly as single flame cookers. LPG as yet offers a convenient, though supplementary source of household energy to a limited number of people who can afford it.

C. Household energy sector governance

The Ministry of Energy and Power Development is the responsible ministry for energy availability in the country .It plans the country energy needs from energy and ensures its availability for both urban and rural communities. The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority is responsible for electrical energy generation , transmission, and distribution .The National Oil Company of Zimbabwe and the recently established body of independent fuel procurement are responsible for the importation of needed fuel for the country.

In Zimbabwe, energy project planning is done centrally at the Ministry .It also monitors energy projects and programmes. . However, in Zimbabwe there is no institutional framework at local level to monitor energy projects and programmes, after they have been commissioned (Mapako 2001).

There are several governmental institutions that are responsible for environmental affaires in Zimbabwe: the Ministry of Environment & Tourism, the Ministry of Lands and Water Resources, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, the Ministry of Energy and Power Development as well as the Ministry of Local Government and the Ministry of Labour .

Concerning forests matters and natural resources the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has to take responsibility through its organs: the Forestry Commission, the Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resource Board and the Department of Parks and Wildlife. The Forestry Commission is especially concerned with firewood.

Whereas the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare is concerned with health matters.


The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) is responsible for generation, transmission and distribution of electricity with an installed capacity of 1,961 MW . While a 750 KW mini-hydro plant, owned by a private company also operates in Zimbabwe. To meet the local demand, 50 % of the electricity needs to be imported.

The utility charges a 5 % levy towards the capital development fund. Electricity consumers also pay 1 % towards the rural electrification. So far a uniform national tariff is applied.

For rural areas the government followed a selective process of electrifying rural business centers. The Rural Electrification Project (RE) in Zimbabwe aims at addressing the energy problems of the rural population thereby stimulates new and diversified economic growth in rural areas. It also creates employment and reduces rural-urban migration. The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) in conjunction with the government have taken the initiative to promote rural electrification. The project was initiated in the early '80s. By 1984, 23 rural growth points had electricity at a total cost of Z$ 5.8milion. Rural communities are encouraged to and a welcome to initiate electrification projects. There are three financing schemes available namely: Rural Institutions Electrification Revolving Fund, Rural Electricity Guarantee Fund and Funds Matching Scheme.

Operational issues addressed to overcome low rate of electrification included: introduction of the Compact Distribution Board (CDB) to lower cost of internal wiring, introduction of the prepayment meter that would enable customers to pay for electricity when they can afford.


The Ministry of Energy is the main co-ordinator of wood. But energy planning, research and development and regulation in the sector of wood supply and demand are the special function of the Forestry Commission. The government does not exert any price control in fuelwood trade. Whereas people in the rural areas depend on the natural forest resources for their wood supplies, those in the urban areas rely on wood vendors. The wood is available from commercial farms and transported by lorries into urban centers.


Commercial charcoal production and distribution exists but to a limited extent. The charcoal is derived from commercial timber plantations and sold at fuel stations or other supermarkets.


The Ministry of Energy through the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe is responsible for setting the price of kerosene. Kerosene is imported through NOCZIM (National Oil Company Zimbabwe) and indigenous oil selling companies and sold at fuel stations. Efforts to bottle and to make it available off shelf are being made.

There are subsidies on kerosene because it is mostly used by the poor. However, the subsidies do not seem to have any impact on the intended users (Mapako 2001).


The Department of Energy is responsible for price controls whilst the private sector imports and bottles LPG. It is available from fuel stations and supermarkets as well as other gas retailers.

Influence of globalisation on the household energy sector

The household energy sector in Zimbabwe has been experiencing a downward shift towards the bottom of the energy ladder. The prevailing macro-economic conditions has worsened the supply of kerosene, LPG and other imported fuels. Hence this has seen poor households reverting to wood especially in urban areas, even at times they have electricity in their homes.

D. Household energy information

National data on household energy related issues are regularly collected during the national census. The Ministry of Energy has the responsibility for collecting and managing household energy data. Available sets of data include information on fuelwood, kerosene and electricity use. There is no national data collected on charcoal and LPG. Information about the fuelwood use was collected through baseline surveys by NGOs in 2001. Before, there had been a data collection on fuelwood through the Department of Energy in 1990, when the National Biomass Energy Strategy for Zimbabwe was prepared. Data about the use of electricity was collected by the Zimbabwean Electricity Supply Authority on a monthly basis.

The latest available information about the use of firewood and kerosene dates from 2001, updating and publishing of the energy balance has been slow. In fact data on household energy use are accessible through the Central Statistical Office and the Department of Energy but they need to be treated with caution. Besides, the collected data is not comprehensive enough and studies have shown that there should be done more in terms of data collection and reporting.

E. Household energy case studies

Zimbabwe is divided into natural regions (I-V) according to the average annual rainfall. A low income rural family was observed in Denhere Village Gutu district. It lies in the agro-region third part of natural regions. The family includes five members that are living in a cluster of three round huts made of pole and dagga with grass thatch.

The father is the head of the family and is employed in Harare. He visits the home mostly during holidays and brings with him groceries and pays for school fees. His wife is in charge of the home when her husband is gone. She prepares the meals, tends the fields and animals, collects water and wood and cares for the children. The children are involved in the daily chores. In this family, two people are productive and three are juvenile dependants (still attending school).

Cash comes on a monthly basis from the father working in town. There is a seasonal cash inflow from the sale of grain and other crops. The wife manages the household (cooking, cleaning and fetching wood).

As head of the family, the father makes decisions on household spending in consultation with his wife. In terms of fuels, cooking, food provision, it is the duty of the wife to make sure that everything is in order or done. Income sources include sales of crops and vegetables. There is also credit available from the AgriBank that caters mostly for farmers.

The construction of the house and the kitchen was accomplished by the father who sub-contracted the local builder. The kitchen house is a thatched rondavel, based on the traditional designs and was built by the local builder. The main living buildings are a cluster of three round huts made of pole and dagga with grass thatch. The father and mother share one hut for themselves whilst boys and girls have their own hut. In cold weather the family members gather in the kitchen during and after cooking and then retire to bed thereafter.

Food preparation is done by the wife, with some occasional help from the children. The kitchen is separate from the main huts and a metal grate stove is located in its center. The wife selects the stoves, pots and plates that she needs for cooking. But the husband makes the decision since household furnishings are his preserve. The used metal grate stove is a modification of the four stone fire. Scrap metal is joined together to form a support structure that is used to hold two or more pots.

Meal preparation takes about one and half hours per day. Typical meals are sadza and relish for lunch and dinner. The breakfast includes boiled water and tea leaves with bread from shops or baked over charcoal. Bread baking is usually done over night. Tea takes normally half an hour to prepare.

The decision on fuel purchases is made by the wife. She also decides what fuels are used. For cooking and space heating the wife uses wood, since heating is a welcomed side effect of the open fire during cooking processes. Normally this is provided for in the evenings and particularly during the winter season, when wood use is estimated to double. Furthermore wood logs are used in the curing of bricks. Traditional brick kilns are built and used for curing bricks.

Other fuels used by the family are kerosene and old motor vehicle batteries. For lighting, kerosene is used in a wick lamp. Compared with batteries that are used for powering the radio and television.

The wife and the children are responsible for supplying fuel. They spend about seven hours per week on collecting fuel.

Though the household knows much about better kitchen management techniques, wood is predominately the major source of energy. Fuel substitution is desired especially to paraffin and electricity, but the costs are a major constraint, as the family is unable to pay them.

Sparknet, May 2005

Last edited by Miriam Hansen , based on work by Grant Ballard-Tremeer .
Page last modified on Sunday 19 of September, 2010 19:02:40 GMT. @HEDON: RYDB

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