Photograph — INCORE

Zimbabwe is facing a blackout threat within the next three months due to declining water levels at the Kariba Dam and depressed coal supplies at Hwange Thermal Power Station.

Plunging water levels at the world’s biggest man-made reservoir, which straddles the border with Zambia has led to a debilitating drought – drying up most water bodies and forcing both countries to reduce hydropower production since February.

Water levels in the Lake Kariba rose above the minimum operating levels at the turn of the year. However, instead of the expected increase in rainfall activity at the Kariba catchment area in January and July, a sharp turn in fortune has seen in-flows into the lake reduced and consequently, the availability of water for power generation.

“The water levels at Kariba have gone very low to the extent that we may not be able to generate power by October if we don’t manage it well … We are also having challenges at Hwange because of low coal supplies, which are caused by breakdowns of machinery that have become very old,” the country’s Energy Minister, Joram Gumbo said at a post-Cabinet briefing last week.

In a statement issued in March by the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) – the authority jointly constituted by Zambia and Zimbabwe, it was disclosed that water allocation for power generation at Kariba North and South would be reduced by almost 600 megawatts (MW), from the current 1,476MW to 890MW.

The bi-national body further explained that water allocated for power generation at Kariba had been reduced from 38 billion cubic metres to 36 billion cubic metres for the whole of this year. Earlier this month, it also announced a reduction in water allocations to the Zimbabwe Power company (ZPC), from 19 billion cubic metres to 16 billion cubic metres. This is to ensure that water is available for power generation into the 2020 season as the Kariba catchment area was expected to receive below normal rains for the rest of the 2018/2019 rainfall season.

Albeit, the persistent below-normal rains leading to inflows into the lake dropping by over three metres from October 2018 to February 2019, coupled with the power generation challenges caused by outdated machinery at Hwange has forced Zimbabwe to look for alternatives in order to alleviate the problem.

To avert the ticking timebomb, Gumbo disclosed that he will soon be travelling to Mozambique to negotiate for more supply of power. Also, the government has licenced over 30 companies which are going to provide solar power energy.

“As a result, we have licenced over 34 companies, to provide solar power to the country. I will also be travelling to Mozambique soon to negotiate for more imports of electricity. Cabora Bassa is overflowing,” Gumbo said.

Another available option to prevent a total blackout is load-shedding, an idea the Minister warned was a distinct possibility to complement the provisions being made and as well as to make the government’s measures more effective.

According to reports, social media has been awash with a supposed load shedding schedule. However, officials at state power supplier, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) debunked the claims this week, describing the ‘schedule’ as fake.

Zesa also said generation at Hwange, its biggest coal-fired station, as well as three smaller plants remained fragile due to ageing. In the meantime, it has asked the majority to switch off all non-essential electrical gadgets to save power and to reduce power usage during peak periods from 5 am to 10 am and 5 pm to 10 pm.

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