Africa Moyo Deputy News Editor
The combination of massive economic growth in response to favourable policies introduced by President Mnangagwa’s administration and climate change resulting in erratic rains have led to electricity supply challenges resulting in load shedding, Zesa Holdings executive chairman Dr Sydney Gata said in a recent interview.
Increased production in manufacturing, agriculture and mining and now tourism caused a surge in demand for electricity at a time generation is depressed due to low water levels in Lake Kariba because of climate change, and aging equipment at thermal stations.
Crucially, independent power producers have not done exceptionally well in filling the gap owing to challenges, principally funding for the start-up investment and a tariff that was previously seen as unviable to cope with servicing that funding and the running costs.
While load shedding is expected to gradually decline from today up to Christmas due to increased imports totalling 500MW from Mozambique and Zambia, with Hwange’s Unit 7 expected to start feeding up to 300MW into the grid soon, Zimbabwe has low installed electricity capacity to meet all the demands from agriculture, mining, tourism, manufacturing, and others.
In a recent exclusive interview, Dr Gata conceded that there is an “inherent capacity shortfall relative to the demand that is now on a vicious trajectory of growth due to the economy responding to the National Development Strategy”.
“NDS1 has imposed very considerable demand for electricity which the country was not prepared for, because unlike many other services, it takes a long time to add generating capacity to respond to demand for electricity.
“Power stations are not only long-term construction assets, they are also long-term planning and long-term financing. The lead times are some of the worst for any infrastructure,” said Dr Gata.
As productivity in one sector rises, the entire value chain tends to experience a rise too, which imposes further demands for electricity to power processes.
The present national installed capacity excluding IPPs is about 2 240MW, which is above the actual available capacity until the installed thermal capacity undergoes major renovation. This is not sufficient to meet demand, especially as more investors express interest to commit their funds in Zimbabwe.
Zesa has so far received electricity applications of 2 300MW by 2025 from domestic and industrial consumers, which is already more than the installed capacity.
Dr Gata said Zimbabwe has “very considerable growth potential and growth performance”, which will require more electricity going forward.
“A good example is the agriculture sector. Between last year and this year, we had to supply 53 percent more electricity for winter cropping.
“What that means is that there is 53 percent more activity on that crop so the load demand doesn’t just get imposed on irrigation load, it also means that the industries which supply inputs to the agricultural sector, also demand more electricity,” he said.
In this case, fertiliser companies, those that make tractors, agriculture chemicals, and others, have also ramped up production, and naturally demand more energy.
The manufacturing industry has also increased production, with over 80 percent of supermarket shelves now dominated by locally made products.
Companies that are into processing, packaging, refrigeration and others along the chain, also run on electricity and with the growth they need to meet have increased their demand for power.
Mining has witnessed more new companies coming in while older ones have dramatically increased production after investing in new shafts and plants, and hence require more electricity.
Some mining companies “require more electricity that a town”, and companies that support the sector such as smelters and so on, will equally need more energy.
“So we have vivid evidence that the policies by the Second Republic to develop the economy are bearing fruit.
“The rise in economic activity happens when the country has not invested enough in primary generation assets to increase capacity and ability to supply the economy.
“The existing equipment, apart from Kariba, which was refurbished and also expanded on new technology, is old. Hwange is effectively 40-years-old. Old thermals are effectively 72 years old. Now, no matter how well engineered they were, no matter how well operated they are, they cannot run efficiently,” he said.
The thermal plants have been operating for 24/7 in the last 72 years and are only taken off for three weeks or slightly more to undergo repairs once a year.
Dr Gata said Zesa staff operating old thermals “and are producing anything, to me, they are heroes”.
“They are getting something out of scrap; they are scavenging. You should visit the Bulawayo Power Station and ask them to open the boiler. Even the terminology has changed (because of the plant’s age),” he said.
With the impacts of climate change biting, world leaders meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 27th climate change conference from November 6 to 18.
However, they didn’t come up with an agreement on scaling down use of fossil fuels that are blamed for most emissions, and a gradual move from hydroelectricity to solar and wind energy, has become necessary as rainfall patterns become increasingly unpredictable.