State power utility Zesa has commenced commercial discussions with South Africa’s, Eskom, with a view to resume imports and plug a crippling power deficit.
Zesa used to supplement a far less power deficit with imports from Eskom, but has recently faced serious hurdles getting supplies after running up and failing to pay a huge import bill.
Zimbabwe is currently facing rolling power cuts that often run for 18 hours, largely due to the massive drop in Kariba Dam water levels, caused by drought experienced last year.
Efficiency and reliability issues at Hwange Power Station, which has outlasted its design lifespan before generation units are replaced of 25 years, also means the generators produce well below their rated output of 920MW.
The southern African country requires about 1 800 megawatts at peak periods of demand, but is currently able to churn out just about 800MW due to constraints at its two main power plants.
Importantly though, the country faces an asphyxiating shortage because it has not invested enough into new power generating plants over the last four decades since completing Hwange units 5 and 6.
While Zesa commendably extended Kariba South by adding an additional two units to add 300 megawatts to the existing six generators, the drought has meant the capacity counts for little, at least for now.
But before Kariba extension, which unfortunately is amenable to vagaries of climate change, Zimbabwe’s last major investment in power was Hwange Power Station over three decades ago.
Zesa’s immediate past chief executive, Josh Chifamba, said in a recent interview that while the utility always had a development plan, but planned initiatives were not accorded priority.
And the deficit bedeviling Zimbabwe now was even forecast as far back as 2005 when a senior executive at Zesa said “until we have new investment in the electricity sector, the threat that there would be no electricity in 2007 is real.”
Hwange’s reliability and up time is also seriously constrained by lack of sufficient maintenance with some of the generators having frequently failing to undergo major and statutory repairs due to acute shortage of foreign currency.
Zesa acting chief executive Patrick Chivaura told Business Weekly that Zesa was finalising commercial formalities with Eskom, as part of a wide array of interventions to improve supply.
The power utility will need to secure a new but likely more onerous agreement with Eskom, having repeatedly defaulted on its bills, which until recently totaled US$33 million.
In total, the power utility owed regional power suppliers, including HCB of Mozambique, a cumulative US$83 million. Amid growing appetite for imports due to constrained productivity, Zimbabwe faces an acute dollar crunch.
“(We) have negotiated with Eskom and we are completing commercial formalities to access power imports,” Chivaura said. “We are getting 50MW from HCB (Hydro Cahora Bassa).
Former Zesa chief executive Engineer Ben Rafemoyo, said recently the quickest way for Zimbabwe to supplies from the region was to import from the region, but faced a US$83 million debts poser.
“To solve the current problem, the quickest way is to resolve the debt issue with those who can supply power to us so that they can continue to supply because that does not require putting up a (new) plant, which will take some time,” he said.
However, apart from the option to import, Chivaura said the utility expects to have an additional 150MW going into the grid once ongoing servicing of the generator is completed.
Further, he said: “We are working to ensure local generation assets perform their maximum (and) importing from the Day Ahead Market, which is managed by the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP).”
Chivaura said several solar projects, which have been licensed, were under development and when completed should ameliorate the deficit, but this will be in the short to medium term.
Government has issue over 40 independent power producer (IPP) licences, but very few have materialised and the output was far too little to make any significant impact.
Zimbabwe should however hope to get significant relief when Hwange units 7 and 8 expansion, which got underway in April this year, starts producing possibly after 42 months.
Further salvation should also come from a joint power station project with Zambia, which will see construction of the 2 400MW Batoka Gorge plant, but this is also a medium term solution.