It looks like a return to load-shedding is inevitable. This follows a reduction in water allocation for power generation at Kariba Dam. Zambezi River Authority, a joint venture between the governments of Zimbabwe and Zambia, has been pushed to reduce water supply due to a drop in water levels in the dam.

It is because of the above that integrated power generation and supply company ZESA Holdings made a request to the government to be allowed to implement load-shedding. That request has since been approved. According to Business Times, a letter by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development Gloria Magombo confirmed this development. Part of the letter reads,” The ministry is in receipt of your letter dated March 14, 2019, on the subject matter. In the letter, ZETDC was advising the ministry on the necessity to implement a load-shedding program in cognizance of the reduction in water allocation by Zambezi River Authority at Kariba Power Station and also the deteriorating coal supply situation at Hwange Power Station. The ministry concurs with ZETDC’s proposal to implement a load-shedding program in compliance with ZRA and also to mitigate the impact of coal supply situation. To this end, ZETDC is being requested to submit the proposed load-shedding schedule to the ministry for its perusal before implementation.”

Cost and condition

Extensive load-shedding was last experienced in the country towards the end of 2015. Kariba Power Station’s contribution in consistent power supply over the years cannot be ignored. It was supplying the cheapest electricity in the country at a cost of $0.02 per Kilowatt hour (kWh). Thermal power stations Hwange, Munyati, Bulawayo and Harare produce electricity at a cost of between $0.08 per kWh and $0.16 per kWh. Now, from production of 1 000Mw, Kariba has reduced its output to just 500MW due to the dwindling water levels. Poor rains will further worsen this problem raising fears that the country’s already strained industries will suffer more. Another problem is ageing machinery at the four thermal power plants. To put things into perspective, they have been in operation for more than 25 years, which is past their design life. As a result, their capacity has significantly been reduced. Only life-extending measures or replacement of equipment will help ramp up their generation capacity.

Effects on business

Reintroducing load-shedding at a time when the government is on a drive to lure investment into the country will adversely affect confidence. Local industries which rely on electricity will also not be spared. Production has already been constrained due to foreign currency shortages and other problems. Perhaps, this is a timely reminder to increase investment in renewable power sources like solar. Developments in the solar industry appear to be sluggish with only a few projects taking shape. But, Ugesi Energy and Distributed Power Africa (DPA), both subsidiaries of Econet have gathered momentum. On the other hand, government-backed projects like the Gwanda Solar Project are still mired in court battles and may take time to materialise.

The reality is that a return to load-shedding is not good for the country. However, rainfall patterns are inconsistent due to climate change is a fact that no one can dispute. The time to develop other power sources is now.