Power cuts: Zim, Zambia ignored warning on Kariba

HARARE - Zimbabwe's intensifying power cuts are a result of the country’s and its northern neighbour, Zambia’s failure to heed early warnings of depleting water capacity in Kariba Dam, a top engineering body has said.

Engineering Institution of Zambia president Bernard Chiwala said the Zambezi River Authority ordered utilities in the two countries to cut generation in March this year, but the rule was not immediately implemented.

“Despite restrictions on water use, the power utilities continued to generate way above the revised threshold of 500 MW leading to a net draw down of the reservoir,” he said.

This comes as electricity shortages in the two southern African countries worsened in September due to low water levels in the dam — a situation that has threatened output, jobs and economic growth.

Kariba’s low water levels have compelled both countries to cut electricity generation and have led to rotating power cuts that last as long as 14 hours a day. Zambia’s energy shortage has also led to mine suspensions in Africa’s second-largest producer of copper and thousands of planned job cuts.

It’s also contributed to this year’s 47 percent depreciation of the kwacha, the world’s worst-performing currency, against the dollar.

In Zimbabwe, the power cuts are having their toll on the ailing local industry, which has been operating at between 30 and 35 percent of their installed capacity.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) said it was feeling the heat from increased power outages and had engaged in talks with both Zesa and the government to find a solution.

“With the electricity supply situation getting worse, CZI is engaging Zesa and the ministry of Energy and Power Development to find ways of mitigating the situation to industry,” CZI said in a statement.

Although critics blame both nations for competing in over-exploiting this source of electricity driving water levels down to 29 percent of capacity this month from 70 percent a year ago, both governments deny any wrong doing.

State-owned power utility, Zesa Holdings, last week said the rationing of water by the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) has always been a norm when the region receives low rainfall.

“Generation at Kariba was only scaled down in September after the winter peak, as per our plan and in compliance with the ZRA water allocation. We are still very much within our water allocation and the view that we ignored ZRA directive to cut down on water usage is not correct,” Zesa said.

Significant reduction in power generation at Kariba was experienced in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the power station generated 40 percent to 60 percent of normal energy output.

Comments (4)

In most places the power cuts extend way beyond 14 hours per day. Maybe 14 days may be the national average loadshedding period per day, but where some of us come from, we get power restored at around 11pm, and is disconnected at 4am.

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