By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka - Zambia is contemplating importing undisclosed quantities of power to cushion the deficit that has engulfed the Southern African country, the continent’s second largest copper producer, forcing it to introduce energy management measures since 1 June as generation capacity falters.
Water levels at most of Zambia’s main reservoirs have dropped to an average 22% from last year’s 83%, spurred by climatic changes, forcing the power company, Zesco, to ration power generation until December 2019 to save the ageing equipment from damage.
Emelda Chola, the Energy Ministry permanent secretary, told The Southern Times that plans were at an advanced stage to meet various stakeholders to start importing power from Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to ease the deficit that has affected economic growth as the country adopts between four to eight hour power rationing amid low water levels to generate the commodity.
“I will be meeting the minister (Mathew Nkhuwa) so that we look at the way forward in the interim and consider various options,” she said.
Earlier, Nkhuwa disclosed that plans were underway for Zambia to seek to tap water from the Congo River in the DRC to complement the shortfall and assist generate enough power to meet the needs of the country. Zambia generates an average 3,217 MW for the domestic and export market.
This is against the generation capacity of 6,000 MW which it seeks to tap in and increase the capacity and meet the increased demand from various end users, including the mining sector which consumes 50 percent of the total output.
The shortfall has affected various non-essential end users except for health, security and other strategic institutions, including the mining sector, which has not been affected to avoid disrupting copper production, the Zambia Chamber of Mines president, Goodwell Mateyo said.
Recently, Copperbelt Energy Corporation, supplier of power to the mines, which it buys from Zesco, for onward distribution to the mining companies on the Copperbelt, Zambia’s main mining hub, proposed to import 200 MW of power for standby purposes to the mining sector as soon as it gets green light from the Ministry of Energy.
Zesco announced in June its load management programme as water levels from Kariba and other dams plummeted to its lowest since 1995 because of low rainfall that characterised various countries in the Southern African region.
“In view of the power deficit, Zesco Limited intends to commence load management to restrict supply,” the company said in a notice dated May 17 this year. It did not provide details on the severity of the problem but warned of persistent power outages to various households and institutions
Water levels at Kariba Dam that straddles Zambia and Zimbabwe had receded to 32% by May 20 and dropped to a low 22% by mid-August this year. At the same time last year, it was 83% and 77% full and was still rising.
Zimbabwe, sharing the water with Zambia, through the Zambezi River Authority, is also faced with crippling power shortages and has resorted to rationing, inducing about 18-hours daily. The two countries have since stepped up efforts to finalise construction formalities for the 2,400 Batoka Gorge power station, which will come on stream in 2024.
Recently, Mozambique’s Hydro Electrica de Cahorra Bassa offered Zimbabwe and Zambia power imports in exchange for further reduced power generation by the two countries at their Kariba Dam hydro plants.
Cahorra Bassa Dam is overflowing following recent cyclone-induced floods, and authorities in Mozambique favour having Zimbabwe and Zambia storing more water in Kariba Dam, which is upstream of Cahorra Bassa on the Zambezi River, to reduce inflows into the downstream dam and thus protect the infrastructure at Cahorra Bassa.
The offer for power comes at a time the ZRA, which administers Lake Kariba and the Zambezi River, which straddle the two countries, has instructed the two power utilities that generate power at Kariba Dam — Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) and Zesco of Zambia — to cut power generation because of the 2018/19 El Nino-induced drought hitting Southern Africa.
ZRA chief executive Munyaradzi Munodawafa recently disclosed to a delegation led by Zimbabwe’s Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi that Mozambique had offered power to Zimbabwe and Zambia in lieu of reduced discharge from Lake Kariba.
The two countries may get as much as 500 MW without the parties involved having to exchange any or significant amounts of money for the deal.
“We should be going to discuss that issue. We should be going with Zesa, Zesco and their transmission people so that we sit together and agree how much Hydro Cahora Bassa can give out without requesting for money and without also the transmission requesting for wheeling charges and all that,” he said.