Power crisis to worsen as Kariba levels plunge 17%

ZIMBABWE’S power generating capacity will further decline this year to worsen an already debilitating electricity crisis after water levels at the world’s largest man-made lake, Kariba, plunged to 17% this week from 53% last year, spelling doom for the imploding economy.

Bernard Mpofu

In October, Energy minister Samuel Undenge said power output from Kariba, which dropped from 750MW in August to current levels of 475MW, would plunge further to a meagre 280MW this month.

Faced with this precarious situation, cabinet has approved the setting up of emergency diesel power plants which would trigger a significant electricity tariff increase for struggling Zimbabwean households and companies.

According to the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA)’s weekly hydrology report, the water levels have sharply declined on a year-on-year basis amid fears of a looming drought.

“The Kariba Lake was created and designed to operate between levels 475,50 metres and 488,50m, with 0,70m freeboard at all times,” said ZRA in a statement. “The Lake levels continued declining during the week under review, and closed at 477,95m on 7th December 2015, which is still lower than the level that was recorded last year (481,79m) on the same date. All spillway gates at Kariba remained closed during the week under review.”

This week, the country’s power utility Zesa announced that Zimbabweans should brace for more rolling power cuts.
“We would like to apologise to our valued consumers for the increase in load-shedding due to a technical fault at Hwange Power Station and low water levels at Lake Kariba,” Zesa said on Tuesday.

Zimbabwe’s floundering economy is projected to grow by 2,7% this year from a forecast of 1,5% despite falling capacity utilisation in the manufacturing sector and low agriculture output. Manufacturing sector capacity utilisation dropped to 34,3% this year from 36,5% last year.

Local industry, struggling due to low aggregate demand, antiquated machinery and a liquidity crunch, has blamed load-shedding as well as high cost of energy for compounding its operational challenges.

Government says supplies will begin to ease in 2017 if on-going power plant expansion projects funded by China are completed on time. China committed to invest nearly US$4 billion in the country’s energy sector as Zimbabwe looks East for capital intensive investment.

Lack of investment in the energy sector and a huge debt overhang has seen the country battling perennial power shortages, making the economy uncompetitive. The country’s existing power stations are currently generating less than 1 000MW against peak demand of 2 200MW.

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