Zimbabwe’s plans to add two new generators to its Kariba South generating plant may have hit a snag after the Zambezi River Authority said the project was not feasible. The search for answers to the country’s power shortages illustrates the importance of regional coordination of electricity production and distribution.
Zimbabwe Power Company spokesperson Fadzai Chisveto told IPS that ZPC was expanding its Kariba Dam South power station to alleviate frequent power cuts that have dogged the country for several years.
Zimbabwe needs about 2,200 megawatts of power, but currently produces only 1,100 MW, from its present Kariba installation and from another power station at Hwange.
Chisveto told IPS that two new generating units at its Kariba South power plant will each produce 150 MW while an upgrade at the coal-fired Hwange power station is also expected to produce an additional 600 MW when it is expanded within the next five years.
Power cuts have had a negative effect on the economy, with most businesses forced to run below capacity or even close during the frequent load shedding, with power cuts lasting as long as 24 hours. Many households have also been forced to turn to alternative energy sources such as firewood for cooking.
Zimbabwe is far from the only country in the region that has been hit by crippling power shortages. Energy planners across the continent have struggled to cope with rising demand due to economic booms and population increases, at the same time as aging power plants, high prices for oil and drought (affecting hydroelectric stations) has reduced generating capacity.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, 25 of 44 countries experience power shortages. Within the Southern Africa region, Mozambique is the only country that has no energy problems, thanks to the massive Cahora-Bassa dam, from which it also exports electricity to its power-hungry neighbour, South Africa. South Africa’s power supply only just meets demand currently. The continent’s most industrialised country has taken steps to improve efficiency by industrial and domestic consumers alike, and is constructing two massive new coal plants to create some breathing room.
Zimbabwe’s economic crisis has narrowed its options to either import power or build new stations. Power companies in neighbouring companies are reluctant to supply electricity on a credit basis. In March this year, Mozambique switched off the country over 75 million dollars in outstanding debt.
This is part of the motivation for Zimbabwe turning to increasing its domestic generating capacity, with upgrades to Hwange (which operates less than full capacity) and by adding turbines to its Kariba South hydroelectric plant.
Chisveto said Zimbabwe also plans to build a new hydro-power station at Kairezi which will generate about 30 MW.
But the Zimbabwe River Authority, the body that manages the Kariba Dam on behalf of Zimbabwe and Zambia, says the Kariba South plan is a non-starter.
“ZRA is only a go-between Zambia and Zimbabwe,” Wilson Sakala, the ZRA Senior Manager for Water Resources and Environmental Management, told IPS, “however we have looked at whether the project is feasible. There is not enough water to support continuous power generation, unless they propose to do so only during the rainy season peak periods.”
Sakala cautioned that a multi-million dollar expansion at Kariba South would thus only provide additional power for part of the year.
Responding to Sakala’s statement, Chisveto maintained that Zimbabwe will go ahead with its expansion plans.
“That had not been communicated to us – that there are problems with our expansion project. In fact we have been advised that the water levels are always high in the Kariba dam. Early this year during a tour of the dam by SADC, we were appraised on the advantages of adding more two units,” Chisveto said.
The Executive Secretary of the Zambezi Watercourse Commission, Michael Mutale, told IPS that cash-strapped Zimbabwe may well need to bring international donors on board to strengthen its energy sector.
“If Zimbabwe cannot buy enough power from the existing SADC Power Pool, the only solution is for the country to open doors to partners that can fund its power projects,” he said.
SADC’s Senior Programme Officer for Energy, Freddie Motlhatlhedi, told IPS that in a bid to assist Zimbabwe, SADC was working on finding such partners.
“We are just finalising the regional infrastructure master plan on the 28th and 29th of June to be presented in Angola by Ministers of Infrastructure from the region,” he said.
Among the possibilities on the table will be improving interconnection of generating stations throughout the region. The present transmission lines are inadequate to the needs of the region, with congestion sometimes preventing the transfer of power from areas of surplus to places where it’s needed.
Such transmission projects – which include the long-delayed ZIZABONA interconnection project linking Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia – will provide a broader range of options for meeting energy needs in individual countries, while maximising the value of infrastructure investment.