07 September 2014, Harare – Kariba South Extension has been a long time in the planning, the first studies by consultants being made in the early 1980s; but now work has started to add 300MW bringing the station up to 1050MW.
The budgeted cost, US$533 million, is probably the cheapest possible addition to Zimbabwe’s generating capacity at US$1,78 a watt and now that Zesa’s problems of getting customers to pay have been solved, largely through the installation of pre-paid meters, servicing and repaying the loans required for the extension are not going to be difficult.
With the shortages in Zimbabwe, the extra electricity will be sold.
This is no doubt why China, which is lending US$320 million, and development finance institutions, which are lending the balance, were not worried about the security of the loans.
Kariba South Extension, when commissioned, will give Zesa vitally needed flexibility and help it meet the demand at peak periods.
It will not add to the energy capacity of Zimbabwe’s generation since all the water allocated to Zesa at Kariba is already being used and so flows can only be reallocated; but it will allow Zesa to, after decades of using Kariba South as a base-load station, to use it as a hydro station is supposed to be used, to meet surges in demand very quickly and cheaply.
Zesa will be able to push output at peak periods and cut back at slack times, like the middle of the night when it now actually has a surplus of capacity.
But as Zim-Asset kicks in and rapid economic growth resumes, Zesa will need more generating capacity to meet the rising base load, which is why the other project that is quick to implement, the extension on Hwange Thermal, now needs to be moved up the priority ladder.
As President Mugabe noted, when he presided over the ground-breaking ceremony at Kariba this week, there are other schemes that can add to Zimbabwe’s capacity using a lot of existing infrastructure.
Small hydro schemes can be installed at several existing dams and can add another 500MW of total capacity; each scheme might be small but together they can make a huge difference.
Since these schemes largely use existing dams the cost of implementation is, in terms of dollars per watt, quite low.
The President also noted the need to develop the already-approved new schemes on the Zambezi, including Batoka Gorge. In fact, this dam will enhance the Kariba power stations since the Batoka and Kariba schemes, operated as a single unit, will together generate more than just the sum of their parts.
When the river is in flood Batoka will take a higher part of the load, since not much water can be stored in that narrow lake, while as the floods subside Kariba South will take the load, and as that happens the extension will really come into its own.
President Mugabe also gave a timely warning about delays, inefficiency and lack of commitment in the past on some public projects.
As he noted, this cannot continue.
The Kariba South extension is now going ahead.
The plans are finalised and have been refined. Contractors have been chosen, the money borrowed and the work begun.
Debate, except over how to beat the four-year deadline, is over and what is now needed is action.