ZIMBABWE’S precarious electricity supply situation could worsen in the next few weeks if the Kariba dam water levels continue to decline.
State-owned Zimbabwe Power Company managing director Noah Gwariro said the parastatal failed to meet its third quarter production targets by 4,46 percent after churning out 2029,88 gigawatt hour (GWh) in the three months to September against 2 124,59GWh due to declining water levels.
“The Kariba lake level dropped from 483,19 metres at the end of the second quarter to 481,99m at the end of September 2017,” he said, adding that this represented a 1,2 metre drop in lake level over the quarter.
The lake one of the largest man-made in Africa is currently 46,89 percent full, but as temperatures and humidity gradually rise at this time of the year, a delay in the onset of the rains may result in increased power outages.
Gwariro noted that by the end of September 2017, ZPC had utilised 11,91 billion cubic metres against a target of 11,25 billion cubic metres resulting in a negative variance of 5,88 percent.
“This is attributed to the general shortage of power within the system which saw generation being ramped up at Kariba Power Station to compensate for low generation levels at the Thermal stations resulting in the over usage of the allocated water,” he said
Economic analysts said Zimbabwe, whose dependence on hydro-power is a well-known risk factor of power generation, should focus on growing and diversifying generation capacity to keep pace with the country’s economic growth.
A number of multi-million dollar solar projects have been proposed in the last few years, but nothing has been done on that front to increase electricity generation which has stalled at 1 200 megawatts against a daily demand of 2 200 megawatts.
The country’s gross domestic product is expected to grow by 3,7 percent this year on the back of an improved agriculture season.
However, intermittent power crises, high production costs and foreign currency shortages have colluded to hinder growth in other sectors of the economy such as mining and manufacturing.
Latest data from the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries reveals that capacity utilisation in the manufacturing sector declined from 47,4 percent last year to 43,1 percent in 2017.
The survey also showed that capacity utilisation in the non-metallic mineral sub sector, which comprises of cement manufacturers and producers of clay and ceramic products, declined from 57,5 percent to 33,2 percent.
The textile, clothing and footwear sub sector was the only sub sector which improved capacity utilisation from 46 percent last year to 50 percent. Gwariro said a number of factors affected the Zesa Holdings subsidiary’s performance and these include the various forced outages that were faced at Hwange and other small thermal power stations.
“Hwange failed to meet their sent out target as a result of the delayed return to service of Unit 6 from major overhaul, numerous tube leaks as well as milling plant challenges. Output at the small thermals was constrained due to low availability of the boiler and turbine plant, as well as unavailability of coal,” he said.
The ZPC boss also blamed coal suppliers, which fell short of their delivery targets for the quarter resulting in depleted stock levels at the thermal stations, for increased power outages in the period under review.
“This is due to the various challenges that are being faced by the coal miners, chief amongst them being delayed recapitalisation on the key mining equipment and cash flows. This challenge is therefore preventing most of the miners from processing enough coal required to meet their delivery targets to the stations,” Gwariro added.
While the authorities attribute the current electricity crisis to low rainfall patterns and a host of other issues beyond their control, experts question why the crisis wasn’t anticipated and cite mismanagement and overuse of water resources as contributing factors.
From a longer-term perspective, the roots of the current crisis lie in the growing shortfall in electricity supply since 2006, as new capacity began lagging behind the country’s increasing demand due to obsolete equipment.
Analysts argue that a solution to the crisis requires both steps to mitigate immediate effects and longer-term policies to tackle the fundamental vulnerabilities of the country’s power sector.
The success of both sets of actions fundamentally hinge on implementing cost-reflective tariffs. This is essential to limit pressures on public finances and attract greater private investment into the sector.