EXPLAINER | Inside Zimbabwe's power generation crisis

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The Kariba Dam is a hydroelectric dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi river basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Kariba Dam is a hydroelectric dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi river basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Roger de la Harpe
  • One of the options Zimbabwe has is to ask to purchase water from the Zambian side of the Kariba Dam.
  • There is a need for huge investment in solar energy because the country has the right weather pattern.
  • The SADC's power generation crisis has led countries to first think of domestic use before the benefits of export.

Zimbabwe has finished its allocated water for power generation at the 1 050 megawatts (MW) hydroelectric power plant in Kariba South.

It means that three-quarters of the country's power generation capacity is gone.

According to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, the dam is 3.7% full.

The country now only has the Hwange Power Station, which produces an average of 350MW. 

It was a bad turn of events ahead of the completion of another coal plant, the Lusulu Power Plant, to give the country an additional 600MW.

The only viable solution now would be for Zimbabwe to buy water from the Zambian side of the hydroelectric power plant. 

If that move is initiated, it's all in the hands of Zambia to agree or decline.

READ | Zimbabwe faces power woes as low dam level halts hydroelectricity

This is because South Africa is also looking to buy power from the region. They have the money, but Zimbabwe could struggle to pay.

Reduced electricity generation will affect the economy's productive sectors.

News24 spoke to an energy expert, Victor Utedzi, who in the past has worked on power projects with an installed capacity in excess of 6000MW, and independent transmission projects in Africa.

What's the solution to Zimbabwe's prevailing situation?

The solution is to increase the variety of power generation avenues in the country from other sources.

The 600MW Hwange extension will help by reducing the amount of generation.

The country has to deploy more solar photovoltaic (PV), which works during the day, and allows water to be conserved.

What are Zimbabwe's long-term prospects in power generation?

The Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority has licensed more than 200 companies to generate electricity.

About 2000MW of that licensed capacity is renewable energy, with most of the capacity licensed being coal.

It is highly unlikely that significant new coal plants will be built in the country, due to environmental imperatives, unless they are able to finance it from private sources that do not depend on international banks. 

Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority is bidding for hydroelectric generation projects in Mozambique in an effort to diversify the generation pool available.

There's the US$6 billion (about R102 billion) Batoka project that's being developed by the Zambezi River Authority.

That will take time to come on stream due to the sheer size of capital raise and the construction effort involved.

Besides solar, what else should Zimbabwe bank on?

Solar is clearly the best prospect. It's the lowest cost, quick to build, and the sun is in abundant supply in the country. There are also good wind resources spread throughout the country. 

The Zimbabwe National Water Authority has a number of dams already built, which could provide up to 500MW of power.

There's the Muzabani oil and gas prospect drilling by Invictus. It's still subject to a successful drilling programme.

Even then, there is a need for significant capital spending to extract the gas, clean it into a usable form for power generation, and build transportation facilities to consumers. 

It's an excellent prospect that will require significant capital to be fully exploited. 

Regional outlook

Each government is concerned about the power crisis in its territory. 

They need to satisfy the growing domestic needs and then export. The solution lies in improving the ease of doing business in these countries.

Investors have the same concerns everywhere - "is my money safe, and will I be able to get it out at market prices?"

Capital is always looking for the safest and most profitable environment.

Neighbours are competing for the same pool of capital. 

There's a global call to drop fossil fuels, but China and some countries in Europe are restarting coal plants. What's your take on this, considering the climate change debate?

We are in this planet together. Climate change as a result of human action, particularly with regard to power generation, is real. 

Tough and coordinated action is everyone's responsibility in order to limit temperature rise to no more than 1.5C of pre-industrialisation levels. 

This is everyone's responsibility. We do not abandon our globally agreed targets when the going gets tough. We need to do more to finance renewables in order to curb emissions.


The News24 African Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation

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