The Energy minister, Advocate Fortune Chasi highlighted at the end of last month that water levels in Kariba were now only good for power generation for just the next 3 months. As the water levels continue to recede it’s with that background that power cuts are going to deepen as we go further into the year. The fact that winter power demands tend to surge by almost 100% means that load shedding is extremely far from being over. It’s been indicated by the energy ministry that our daily power output is falling short by at least 400MW with respect to demand. Businesses are suffering owing to these power cuts.
The Informal Sector Is The Lifeline Of Most Zimbabweans
The greatest proportion of the Zimbabwean population derives their source of living from the informal sector. The informal sector is said to contribute at least 60% of our GDP. Small to medium scale enterprises are common amongst the greater division of the population. Most of these enterprises are linked to the home industries domain where people operate and run small businesses from their homes. Now the quandary lies in that one of the most affected areas when it comes to loading shedding are residential areas. The alternative of getting to run operations using fuel generators is obviously a huge undertaking for many. After all, fuel is scarce and expensive on top of that. So most small businesses are now ailing and most have come to a standstill. Consider that most areas are now experiencing load shedding where virtually daily electricity is only available for roughly 8 hours. Those 8 hours are outside the normal working hours and as such drowns any prospects normal business operations.
Central Business Districts And Residential Areas Most Affected
The other most affected areas are the central business districts (CBDs). Of which again a significant portion of informal business players operating therein. I’ve had the opportunity at times to speak to butchery owners, barbershop owners, shop owners among many others who have cited increased difficulty in running their businesses smoothly. Just recently Simbisa Brands businesses such as Chicken Inn and Pizza Inn had to adjust their business operating hours to align with the load shedding schedules. While it’s understandable that most major business operators can alternatively run on fuel generators it’s not that easy. Fuel is scarce and expensive which ultimately translates to an increase in consumer prices. This effectively means that production capacities have been seriously decimated as most are left with no option but to wait upon electricity. Some businesses that deal with perishable foods are incurring huge losses due to food getting rotten. The other day I spoke to someone who complained about how the meat they had eaten at a fast food joint didn’t taste right. I thought to myself that meat could have now entered a stage of getting rotten and was cooked regardless. So these are some of the woes that many businesses now have to contend with on a daily basis.
The Power Woes Are More Than Just About Kariba Water Levels
The energy minister pointed out that power shortages are mainly emanating from corruption and poor corporate governance. The power utility, ZESA is owed approximately USD1.2 billion. The lion’s share of that debt belongs to local authorities and government arms who account for a combined debt exceeding USD330 million. One of the reasons power generation is low is because of poor infrastructure at Hwange where there’s a need for repairs and maintenance work. Plus ZESA itself has oft time highlighted that they are having limited capacity to do repairs and maintenance works for their infrastructure. The other issue is of arrears pertaining to power imports which have limited the government’s ability to import more power. Furthermore, nothing substantial is being done in as far as other sources of energy are concerned. Solar energy, wind energy and geothermal energy are some of the biggest sources of energy locally that still remain largely untapped.
Alternatives Are Available But Costly
Solar energy is unlimited in Zimbabwe but the initial costs of setting up tend to be extremely high. Some small businesses like hair salons and barbers can easily migrate to solar power but that might mean a surge in their pricing to raise required funds. Whereas most businesses need substantial amounts of capital if they are to set up solar power systems. Fuel generators I’ve already highlighted are not an easily implementable alternative for many.
Currently, mines and big industries have been spared the horrors of load shedding. Residential areas and business centres are in a huge fix and one wonders just how far load shedding is going to go. One thing the energy ministry has made clear is that load shedding is definitely here to stay.