EDITORIAL COMMENT: More investment into electricity generation needed

President Mnangagwa

President Mnangagwa

Zimbabwe has added 300 megawatts of electricity to the national grid after the $533 million Kariba South Power Station Extension Project was commissioned on Wednesday.

The inauguration of Units 7 and 8 at the hydro plant by President Emmerson Mnangagwa is a milestone which adds a huge amount of energy to a system that has failed to meet demand for 11 years.  Although the new generation will not be enough help aggregate power output to meet demand, it is indeed an important addition.

Our country, like many in Sadc started experiencing electricity shortage in 2007 as consumption overtook output. Governments in the region failed to marshal investment into new generation at a time when industrial development, hence demand, was rising. The incongruence caused the current shortages and pushed authorities to attract more resources into energy production.

The Government engaged China for support.  They agreed on adding two units of 150MW each at Kariba South and 600MW to Hwange Thermal Power Station.

On November 10, 2014, Sinohydro, a Chinese State-owned hydro-power engineering and construction company began work on the Kariba South Extension Project. In 41 months the company completed the project leading to its commissioning on Wednesday.

“I am extremely and pleasantly surprised and grateful that from a mere concept in a room in Harare, Government decided to have this Kariba South Extension. Today we are seeing the actualisation of that concept,” President Mnangagwa said.

“It is a great wonder. It tells you what we can achieve as a Government in collaboration with our domestic institutions as well as the importation and collaboration with our partners to access technology from friends of the country.”

Following the expansion of Kariba, the hydro facility now has a nameplate capacity of 1 050MW as it was already capable of producing 750MW. On a national scale, Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) is dispatching 1 200MW which is, however, 600MW lower than average daily demand.

This means that the utility should intensify measures to boost power output by expediting the refurbishment of Hwange Thermal Power Station.  At the same time it needs to ensure that the planned construction of solar farms in the country and harnessing of other energy options are speeded up.

It is good that financial closure for the Hwange project is due next month. Sinohydro won the $1,5 billion contract to add 600MW to 920MW that the coal-fired plant is capable of producing. The project is envisaged to take 42 months to complete.

ZPC says all conditions precedent for the first drawdown of $199 million for the Hwange 7 and 8 Expansion Project were met. Sinohydro and ZPC have deposited their equity contributions as part of requirements for the first drawdown to be availed by China Exim Bank. Considering what has been done so far, we don’t see any obstacles arising to delay the consummation of the project.

It is with regret that we note the controversy that has dogged the Government’s efforts to harness the solar potential the country has. There has been no progress at Insukamini, Gwanda and Munyati where the Government wants three solar farms of 100MW each to be built. The Gwanda tender, for instance, has been marred by allegations of corruption involving the winning tenderer, Intratrek and the company’s failure to do any work despite the fact that it was paid money a few months ago.

All involved should work harder for the controversies and delays in the country’s pursuit of its solar ambitions are overcome as soon as possible.
Refurbishment work at smaller coal-fired power stations at Harare, Munyati and Bulawayo hasn’t started for reasons we aren’t aware of yet it should have begun months ago.

The Zambezi River gives Zimbabwe and Zambia much electricity at Kariba, and Mozambique further downstream at Cahora Bassa but the three neighbours are only utilising a fraction of the river’s potential. The $4 billion Batoka Gorge Hydro-Power plant to be shared by Zimbabwe and Zambia seeks to exploit the river more. It remains on the drawing board years on. The challenge is likely the fact that no willing investor has come along given the large capital outlay involved.

We were encouraged when President Mnangagwa highlighted the need for the country to develop coalbed methane for power generation. Like solar, this is one possible energy option that is crying out for investment. He mentioned that the Lupane-Hwange area has an estimated 765 billion cubic metres of methane which is a large resource.

This is only a preliminary estimate which, we must add, must be confirmed by more investment into exploration not only in the Lupane-Hwange sector, but also other likely deposits in the south-east lowveld and portions of Zambezi Valley in Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central provinces.

But an important fact to highlight is that investment into new generation must go hand in hand with corresponding investment into power transmission and distribution infrastructure. It does not make sense to expand Kariba South and Hwange Thermal, build the Batoka hydro and gas-fired capacity in Lupane when the plants would end up being neglected.

Construction of lines to transmit and distribute the expanded output to users is just as critical as building of new generating capacity. The users we are referring to are new ones who remain unconnected to the national grid. Also, as the economy recovers and grows, demand for electricity will increase hence the need for more resources to be invested into energy production, transmission and distribution.

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