via Power Outages: Nation slowly adapting – NewZimbabwe 05/10/2015 by Tichaona Chifamba (Xhinua)
AS the blackout due to power shortages prolonged in Zimbabwe, companies started to move their working shifts from day to night as the authorities only gave them a small window of power supply to operate in the dead of the night.
Power utility ZESA Holdings recently introduced a punishing load shedding schedule under which consumers are disconnected for up to 18 hours a day – sometimes even longer – because of limited generation at its plants and subdued imports.
The new schedule shows that on given days, Harare consumers are switched off from 4 am to 10 pm and get power until 4 am the following day when they are switched off again till 1 pm at the earliest.
An owner of a printing company in Tynwald South -northwest of the city – who declined to be named said he had had to change the working hours so that they could make use of the power which was almost assured between 10 pm and 4 am.
He said since there were no street lights in the industrial area, the workers risked being mugged while on their way to work.
He employs 10 people and all of them, except the administrator, work at night.
“For their safety, I am now considering providing transport from a central point to take them to work, but this is an extra cost I would rather do without,” he said.
The workers are also getting used to night, despite earlier protests, he added.
The businessman said that it was not viable to use generators during the day as these were more expensive to run than use power from the grid.
“Also, some companies in my area cannot use generators because their machines are too big and need more power than the generators can give. And also don’t forget the wear and tear on the generators for those who can use them,” he said.
The current load shedding is the most severe in many people’s memories, with the year 2008 being second when financial problems forced ZESA to drastically reduce imports while infrastructure was run down because of lack of maintenance.
President Robert Mugabe last week urged industry to take advantage of the availability of power at night to maximize production.
A human resources manager in the Southerton industrial area said they usually had power in the afternoons, although this was not guaranteed.
“We are now paying our workers based on the amount of work done when there is electricity. It is better to give them a little something than laying some of them off completely because of the power disruptions,” he said.
School pupils due to begin final examinations in October have not been spared either. After having been used to studying under electric light, many now do so under dull candle-light.
Facebook user James Ndiyamba had this to say in expressing his sympathy to them:
“My heart bleeds for the youngsters sitting for any of their final exams this year. How they will make it through is sadly now in their ability to literally burn the candle light.”
Some husbands and fathers while up time away in the generator-lit sports bars, where they take warm beer instead of the cold one they are accustomed to.
“I want my beer ice cold but now I must make do with not so cold or even warm beer,” said Peter Marowa.
“I guess this is the reality and I have to dance to the tune that is being played, not the one that I would love to dance to,” he added resignedly.
Harare City Council spokesperson Michael Chideme also announced recently that some residents were failing to get municipal water because power outages at reservoirs were affecting pumping.
Electricity is one of the key enablers in the economy, and its unavailability has had a telling effect on all sectors of the economy.
ZESA Holdings gets its power from dilapidated thermal power stations and the more efficient Kariba Hydro Power Station and generally produces about 1,100 MW at peak with a little more coming from imports. Daily demand is 2,000 MW reaching a peak of 2,500 MW.
At the usually reliable Kariba power station, generation was recently reduced from 700 MW by about 300 MW following the reduction of water levels in the lake blamed on drought.
Mugabe also acknowledged that the government had been warned previously that power generation at Kariba would be reduced because of the low water levels in the lake.
“We were warned before that this year water levels will be low and as such power generation would be low as well,” he said while defending his energy minister who had been under fire for the severe power outages.
Zimbabwe shares Lake Kariba with Zambia to the north, which also generates power on the northern bank of the dam wall.
The Southern Africa region was warned more than two decades ago that there would be a power deficit but governments did little or nothing in anticipation of the problem.
Chinese companies are now working on the expansion of the two major power stations – Kariba and Hwange – to produce an additional 600 MW, with tenders for the construction of solar projects being considered, while some independent power producers (IPPs) have been licensed to work on smaller plants.
However, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority announced last week that 13 of the IPPs licensed since 2010 had not yet begun work because of funding problems.
The other eight were very small producers whose contribution to the national grid was not significant.
“Total funding for all these projects amounts to 10 billion U.S. dollars,” said ZERA chief executive Gloria Magombo.
Magombo added that equity funding for the projects was difficult to get because of liquidity constraints bed-evilling the country.
The government is also mulling the banning of electric geysers and is promoting the use of solar ones, arguing that this could save up to 300 MW a day.
Many people have now opted to use alternative energy in the form of generators and solar. An average generator which can light the whole house and provide enough power for single plate stove costs around 1,200 U.S. dollars, but users cannot afford to fuel them up every day.
The capital outlay for solar energy providing enough lighting and heating is huge at a minimum of around 5,000 U.S. dollars, but those who can afford are opting for this because it is not only cheaper in the long run, but is also cleaner and more efficient to run than the smoking generators.
In the meantime, the people’s anger against the failure to provide power is slowly subsiding. Although many jokes have been concocted to exhibit ZESA’s alleged shoddiness, many now realize that the problem goes beyond a broken down generator.
The problem goes to years of lack of investment in electricity infrastructure as admitted by the Secretary for Energy and Power Development in the Zimbabwe government, Patson Mbiriri.
“We did not invest in the energy sector, in the power sector for many years,” he said last week.