Power output plunges 39%



ZIMBABWE’S power output plunged 39% during the seven months to July, as Harare and Lusaka moved to forestall a near catastrophe by applying limits on water outflows from Lake Kariba to bolster the reservoir’s capacity following prolonged droughts.

Zambia and Zimbabwe share the hydroelectric power facility from both sides of the Zambezi at Kariba Gorge and operate the plant through the Zambezi River Authority, a co-owned outfit.

The hydroelectric power facility currently generates most of Zimbabwe’s power after government completed a US$253 million upgrade two years ago, which increased output to 1 050 megawatts (MW), from about 750MW.

A slowdown in output from Kariba has a huge bearing on the Zimbabwe Power Company’s capacity to power industries and domestic consumers.

In its pre-budget strategy paper released last week, the Ministry of Finance indicated that output declined by 39% to 3 279GW/h during the period, from 5 337GW/h of power transmitted during the same period last year.

“Electricity generation during the first seven months of 2020 declined by 39% to 3 279GW/h from 5 337GW/h sent out during the same period last year,” the strategy paper said.

“This is attributed to planned reduced operating levels at Kariba Power Station in order to allow the dam to fill up following a drastic fall in reserves of usable water. The country has been facing serious electricity shortages which crippled domestic production. The situation was exacerbated by drought which resulted in low water levels in Kariba Dam, compromising hydro electricity generation in one of the major power stations in the country,” said the paper.

Following the completion of the landmark power plant upgrade in 2018, Kariba promised to set the country back on the path of industrialisation, which was critical to lift millions out of poverty.

But a starkly different picture has emerged in the past year, precipitated by a damaging drought in the Zambezi Valley, which limited inflows and almost turned off its turbines.

The crisis was compounded by the resumption of a US$1,5 billion expansion and facelift of the Hwange thermal power plant, which kicked off last year, as Zimbabwe’s underfire government fulfilled its promise to address one of the biggest hurdles to its recovery efforts.

Output at the thermal facility has often been disturbed by ongoing upgrades.

But this could only be for a short period. Full generation may return around 2022.

Government’s paper said after July, inflows into Lake Kariba have improved and power generation has been picking up again.

“During the period under review, there has been improved generation capacity at Kariba Hydro Power plant due to continued increase in inflows into the lake as a result of normal to above normal rainfall in the Zambezi water catchment areas,” the paper noted.

“To address the shortage of power in the country, government is undertaking several alternative electricity generation projects, most of which are funded by extra-budgetary funds, loans and private sector. Since the current projects are mainly off budget funded, therefore, activity in the energy sector is expected to continue in 2021 as planned,” it noted.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) warned during the period under review that Zimbabwe’s industrial crisis escalated beyond expectation after companies were confronted by slackening demand, the power crisis and the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

It said so dire were the economic storms that capacity utilisation suffered sharp knocks while output plummeted by bigger margins, defying growth-stimulating measures that had been rolled out in the 2020 national budget.

“We started the year on a very high promissory note from the policy front with a national budget that was taunting a growth thematic direction,” the CZI said.

“But we did not manage to go the full course of the stabilisation programme because we were hit by a crisis. We were now in a crisis within a crisis because our economic crisis that was pre-existing had not gone away when COVID-19 came. Industry was in decline; it is still in decline. Capacity utilisation was low and it is still low and further declining because of COVID-19, which added to a pre-existing difficult doing business environment,” it added.