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Kariba Dam, image from ZRA

Clean Power

Zimbabwe Only Gets Electricity Between Midnight & 4 AM

It’s not just electricity. The impact of climate change on the livelihoods of citizens in different parts of the world is getting more visible. Severe flooding in Pakistan, Nigeria, and other parts of the world had devastating effects earlier this year, with tens of millions displaced from their homes and thousands losing their lives. At the same time, in other parts of the globe, such as in East and Southern Africa, citizens are bearing the brunt of prolonged dry spells and irregular rainfall patterns.

Zimbabweans are feeling the effects of low water levels in reservoirs that are the main source of electricity on a more frequent basis now. In the latest episode, the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), the body that manages and regulates water usage at the Kariba Dam, announced that the water levels in the dam were now dangerously low. The Kariba Dam is shared by Zambia and Zimbabwe and is supposed to operate between 475.50m and 488.50m of water above sea level for hydropower generation, said Eng. Peter Chibwe Kapala, Zambia’s Minister of Energy in a statement last week. Readings at the end of November showed that only 4.12% of usable water storage was left for power generation. ZRA has then moved to throttle power generation at Kariba.

ZRA has instructed the Zimbabwe Power Company to reduce power generation to a maximum of 300 MW. The installed generation capacity on the Zimbabwe side is 1,050 MW. ZESCO Limited on the Zambian side has also been asked to reduce generation at the Kariba North Bank Power Station to 800 MW maximum. On the Zambian side, the installed generation capacity is 1080 MW. The difference in the generation limits applied at the moment is because Zimbabwe had used most of its water allocation for the period compared with Zambia for several reasons:

  1. Zambia recently commissioned new generation capacity at the new Kafue Gorge Lower (KGL) hydro plant. The addition of the 750 MW KGL hydro project, which was constructed at a cost of approx.$2.3 billion, meant that until recently, Zambia had excess generation capacity of 1,156.8 MW. This meant that they could manage the water usage at Kariba more effectively.
  2. Meanwhile, across the river, Zimbabwe’s aging coal power plants are struggling and therefore Kariba dam had to do most of the heavy lifting. The old units at Zimbabwe’s main coal power plant, Hwange, have an installed capacity of 920 MW but generally hover around 300 MW. Zimbabwe also has small thermal power stations in Harare, Bulawayo, and Munyati that each have an installed capacity of close to 100 MW but mostly oscillate between 0 and 10 MW. Therefore, the power utility had no option but to really make Kariba do most of the work.

Today, ZPC’s dashboard showed that the total generation from all its power plant was 500 MW of electricity, out of an installed capacity of over 2200 MW. Kariba was limited to 200 MW and Hwange was doing about 300 MW. The small thermals at Harare, Munyati, and Bulawayo were all not generating anything. Yes, a grand total of 0 MW out of a possible 290 MW or so. So, over the past few weeks, the country’s largest power producer has been able to generate between 500 MW to 750 MW in a country with a peak demand of close to 2000 MW. There are some small plants around the country from independent power producers that feed into the grid, but their contribution is still quite small. This dire situation means that the power company has had no choice but to implement load shedding. The situation is so bad that most citizens are now only getting electricity between 12 midnight and 4am when the available capacity can meet the lower off-peak demand. It’s going to be a long summer for citizens until the water levels in the big dam recover.

Zimbabwe is also trying to increase the importation of electricity from the Southern African Power Pool. The problem is Zimbabwe’s neighbors such as South Africa are also struggling to meet demand. 2022 has been the worst year of load-shedding in South Africa’s history and the country will have little to no room to help Zimbabwe with more power exports. Zambia has some legroom, but has also now announced that it will start load-shedding from the middle of December for up to 6 hours a day.  Mozambique could perhaps increase its exports to Zimbabwe, but would not have enough to address Zimbabwe’s deficit. Zimbabwe also has a well documented foreign currency shortage drama that could also be limiting factor to how much it can import.

Later this month, the new 300 MW coal power plant at Hwange will be added to the mix, It’s a project that was started a while ago. A second 300 MW unit will also come online early next year, but the power situation will remain in a precarious position. Another proposed 2,400 MW coal plant in Zimbabwe is struggling to find funding as lenders shift focus to more sustainable solutions.

There is an urgent need to add new electricity generation capacity in Zimbabwe. Distributed renewable generation projects such as solar coupled with battery storage could help alleviate some pressure in the quickest possible time if done at scale. We have seen countries like Vietnam add gigawatts of new solar capacity in a very short time. Building small hydro plants in other parts of the country could also help. Already there are some very successful example of these in the Eastern Highlands of the country, such as the Pungwe project. Residents of this part of the country like to show off that they don’t get any load-shedding. More of this please!


Image courtesy of ZRA

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.


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