Zimbabwe power crisis: There is bad news, and slightly less bad news
Faced with its worst power crisis in years, Zimbabwe cabinet on Tuesday gave an update on power shortages and what it plans to do about them.
Zimbabwe plans to increase electricity imports and speed up the deployment of independent power producers. At a briefing after the Cabinet meeting, Energy Secretary Gloria Magombo said the commissioning of two new units at Hwange will take time. In the immediate term, she said, Zimbabwe must import power and squeeze out as much power as it can from local sources.
In summary, there will be no major short-term relief.
Here are highlights of her briefing, and what it means for the power situation.
What must happen now?
On Tuesday, Zimbabwe was importing 50MW from Mozambique’s HCB, up to 169MW from ESKOM, 100MW from Zambia’s ZESCO and 10MW from EDM in Mozambique.
With ESKOM, Zimbabwe has a firm deal to import 100MW, but it can only import extra when ESKOM, which is facing its own crisis, has power to sell.
Zimbabwe is increasing imports from its neighbours, Magombo said. The country has agreed with EDM to increase supplies to 50MW, while there is an agreement for a further 150MW from Mozambique.
ZESA will also increase customers on net-metering, a system that allows solar power users to sell excess power back into the grid.
What’s the near, long term plan to avert the power crisis
In 2020, Zimbabwe tendered for 500MW of solar. Magombo says pre-feasibility studies have finally been completed and bidders will be announced in the first quarter of next year.
Zimbabwe has signed an agreement with solar company Evergreen for 100MW and another 500MW from Dubai’s SkyPower, which will install its projects in phases of 100MW. The agreement was signed between SkyPower and President Emmerson Mnangagwa at COP27 in Egypt.
Among small, new solar power plants that have gone into the commissioning phase over the past weeks are Dunavet in Guruve (2.5MW) and Richaw Solar in Gwanda.
Energy investors have stayed away from Zimbabwe because of concerns that they will not be allowed to sell power at profitable tariffs, and that charging in Zimbabwe dollars would leave them unable to pay for foreign loans.
What about Hwange 7 & 8
These two new units will add 600MW, but it may not happen as quickly as desperate Zimbabweans may be hoping for.
Magombo, who has commissioned new plants before, explains: “Commissioning of a plant is not an event, it’s a process. When we talk about commissioning Hwange 7, each part has to be commissioned independently and certified as working 100%, before they move on to the next one.
If there’s something not working properly, they have to stop, look at it, and correct it. As they do that, they look at the critical path in terms of when they can put that unit on the grid.”
The other part of commissioning is the transmission – including power lines. A 400km line is being built from Hwange to Bulawayo’s Insukamini sub-station. Extended COVID-19 lockdowns in China have caused delays as engineers were unable to travel to oversee parts of the commissioning phases.
Magombo expects the process of bringing Unit 7 onto the grid to start by month-end, but even then, she cautions, the commissioning phase will continue for a further period to make sure that the power supply is stable.
Next year, Hwange starts refurbishing the older Hwange plant, built in the 1980s. When that project is done, and combined with the two new units 7 and 8, Hwange would have a total of 1,480MW.
Will the two new Hwange units end the power crisis?
Zimbabwe is currently producing less than 500MW, while demand is at least 1700MW. Kariba, which for much of 2022 was producing over 70% of Zimbabwe’s power, is now down to under 200MW. To match demand, Zimbabwe would need to import at least 1200MW, which is not available in the region.
The extra 600MW from Hwange, when it finally comes on stream next year, will also not make up for what is needed, especially if Kariba remains down. Beyond this, mines alone right now need up to 2500MW to fire up new and expanded projects, while demand from new homes is growing, and this means Zimbabwe will be in deficit for the medium to long term.