12 September 2015, Harare – ZIMBABWE’S electricity generation outlook appears gloomy after forecasts indicated that the region could receive insufficient rainfall in the coming season, a situation that could plunge the Kariba Power Station into further crisis.
The country has already started generating less electricity due to dwindling water supplies for power generation at Kariba Dam, severely constraining economic growth and development.
As first reported by the Financial Gazette in May, the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), a joint venture outfit responsible for the management of water in the Zambezi basin, is now rationing water supplies to conserve the resource until the dam levels have risen to the requisite levels.
The two power utilities, the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) and Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) that operate power stations on the southern and northern banks of the dam share equally the water resource from Kariba Dam for power generation.
There are now growing fears that should the water levels at the dam fall further, power generation will have to be stopped owing to water shortages, a situation which will result in the power utility rolling out intense load shedding throughout Zimbabwe.
The lake level at the end of July was 480,81 metres above sea level. This was five metres below last year’s level, which was 585,91 metres above sea level.
Continuing generating electricity at the current levels would result in the lake falling below the minimum drawdown level of 475,5 metres before the onset of the next rainy season, a situation which might lead to a possible shut down of the power station.
The water rationing is meant to conserve the water resources so that generation of electricity from the power stations can continue.
But the tragedy of the water situation has brought into question the rationality of Zimbabwe investing more in hydropower.
Kariba South Power Station has remained Zimbabwe’s biggest generator of electricity and is currently being expanded to add 300 megawatts (MW) to the national grid by 2018.
Power generation at Kariba Dam relies on availability of adequate water which also depends on the rainfall received in any particular rainfall season.
Now, the dramatic drop in water into Kariba Dam following a prolonged drought in southern Africa has forced the ZRA to reduce water allocation from 45 billion cubic metres to 40 billion cubic metres.
As a result, electricity supplies from Kariba Power Station to households and industries have plunged by 275 MW, a situation which would worsen the electricity supply situation in the country.
This comes at a time when the power utility is battling machine breakdown at its four ageing coal-fired generation plants at Hwange, Bulawayo, Munyati and Harare.
Consumers are therefore likely to experience suppressed power supplies until generation is brought back to normal levels.
In a statement issued last week, the power utility said: “ZESA Holdings would like to advise its valued customers countrywide of the reduction in generation at Kariba Power Station due to depleted dam water levels, commencing on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at 1800hrs, in compliance with the ZRA requirement to scale down on water consumption.
“Generation will consequently be reduced from the normal 750MW to 475MW until the dam levels have risen to the requisite levels.”
But the water levels may not improve owing to projected drought in the region.
The Financial Gazette reported last week that the country is likely to experience drought in the 2015/2016 rainy season, with the Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) projecting a normal to below normal rainfall season for the entire southern African region.
SARCOF’s forecasts were corroborated by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, which said in its August 2015 report that an El Nino would ravage the region from October to December, resulting in a below average rainfall forecast for the southern African region.
The situation is likely to continue as the lower catchment rivers into Kariba Dam dry up.
Consumers will experience suppressed power supplies until generation is brought back to normal levels, but this may now take much longer than earlier anticipated.
Although the effects of load shedding will be minimised with possible power imports where available, ZESA Holdings has urged consumers to use the available power very sparingly to minimise the extent and duration of load shedding.
The power utility said its power generating subsidiary, ZPC would take full advantage of the reduction of units in service at Kariba to undertake the annual statutory maintenance, scheduled to be conducted between September 1, 2015 and January 28, 2016.
Kariba Power Station has been producing relatively cheap and reliable electricity for the country.
The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) said the power supply situation would ruin the economy.
“Power is one of the many infrastructural utilities which are supposed to play an enabling role in the economy. A lot of money is lost due to power outages and power availability is one of the prerequisites demanded by potential investors. They look at the assurance that they will have sufficient and reliable power supply. Given the anticipated crisis, few investors would consider Zimbabwe as an investment destination,” said CZI.
The Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe said the situation at Kariba was a cause for concern in the mining industry as it would affect operations in the sector.
The mining sector requires significantly higher power supplies than the other sectors and is the single largest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product.
Zimbabwe has been experiencing crippling power shortages, with national demand at peak periods estimated at 2 200MW, against available generation of about 1 000MW.
The country has been importing from regional power utilities to cover the shortfall, but this has also not been enough to meet demand.
Imports are currently only coming from Mozambique’s Hydro Cahora Bassa, which has been supplying a paltry 50MW, but on a firm contract.
The electricity situation has serious repercussions on the recovery of the productive sectors of the economy such as manufacturing, agriculture, mining and tourism, which government wants to drive the country’s economic recovery.
Presently, most households and businesses in Zimbabwe are subjected to between three and five hours of load shedding daily.
Electricity supply was expected to be one of the key drivers of government’s economic revival strategies under the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset).
Zim-Asset envisages increased access to electricity by domestic consumers, both within urban set ups and rural communities.
*Phillimon Mhlanga – Financial Gazzette