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Power crisis set to worsen



THE electricity supply crisis in Zimbabwe is set to worsen following revelations by the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) in its first-quarter report of this year that the water level at Lake Kariba is very low due to “the lowest lake inflow” on record.


This will hugely affect power generation at a time when Zimbabwe has not placed any contingency measures to salvage the crisis.

The low water inflow is attributed to the El Niño-induced drought spell which is a direct consequence of the climate crisis.

On 12 April, executives from Zambia’s power company, Zesco Limited, Zimbabwe Power Company (Zpc) and the ZRA met to review the hydrological outlook for Kariba.

The review took into account the below-normal performance of the 2023/2024 rainfall season.

The meeting looked at the 16 billion cubic metres of water allocated for power generation operations at Kariba that was announced in December 2023 and noted that as at 12 April 2024, the power utilities had utilised a combined total of 5.35 billion cubic metres of water, leaving a balance of 10.65 billion cubic metres.

This balance on allocation implies a combined average power generation threshold of 385 megawatts at Kariba Dam for the period April to December 2024, which is not enough for Zimbabwe’s consumption.

Part of the report circulated to the Zambian and Zimbabwean authorities after the meeting by ZRA chief executive officer Engineer Munyaradzi Munodawafa reads: “A review of the performance of the first quarter of 2024 and the 2023/24 rainfall season, which is projected to end by May 2024, was undertaken through simulations of water availability and projections up to December 2024. This exercise was executed using the authority’s state of the art and robust Kariba inflow forecasting system which is underpinned by over 100 years of Zambezi River hydrological data.

“The 2023/2024 rainfall performance in the Kariba catchment was below-normal as forecasted by weather authorities (the southern African regional climate outlook forecast and the respective meteorological agencies of Zambia and Zimbabwe).

“The review also indicated the possibility of the year 2024 being recorded as the lowest lake inflow year for Lake Kariba.”

The report also announced a major decline in inflows of water into the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls.

The report said the Zambezi River’s flow at Victoria Falls dropped from a peak of 800 cubic metres per second on 4 March 2024 to 657 cubic metres per second on 8 April 2024 before marginally rising again to 703 cubic metres per second on 12 April 2024, compared to 2 052 cubic metres per second recorded on the same date last year and a long-term mean of 2 952 cubic metres per second.

“The Zambezi River flows at Chavuma also receded from a first peak of 530 cubic metres per second recorded on 23rd January 2024, down to 343 cubic metres per second on 9th March 2024, before rising again to 614 cubic metres per second on 12th April 2024, compared to 2 586 cubic metres per second on recorded on the same date last year and a long-term mean of 2 081 cubic metres per second.

Lake levels recorded at the world’s largest man-made lake continue to recede as we approach the close of the 2023/2024 rainfall season, mainly due to low inflows from the mainstream Zambezi River and reduced rainfall activity on and around the lake.

“The recorded lake level today, 12th April 2024, was at 477.48 metres above sea level translating to 8.89 billion cubic metres or 13.73 percent of live storage meant for power generation. On the same date in 2023, the lake was 478.75 metres above sea level with 14.73 billion cubic metres and 22.74 percent of live storage. The authority projects that the gross water yield in 2024 is likely to be no more than 40 percent of that usually received during periods when the rainfall has performed normally leading to the Kariba reservoir closing the year 2024 at a level of about 475.85 metres (1.61 billion cubic metres or 2.49 percent live storage)” reads the report.

Due to the crisis, ZPC and Zesco will now continue holding weekly joint technical committee meetings where the updated hydrological outlook for the Kariba catchment area is discussed.

Zimbabwe has peak demand of 1 900 megawatts of electricity.

Through the joint technical meetings and other engagements, the authority and the two utilities will continue to review the hydrological outlook and, where necessary, implement measures collaboratively to sustain reservoir operations at Kariba, executives agreed.

The ZRA is a bi-national organisation mandated with contributing to the economic, industrial, and social development of the republics of Zambia and Zimbabwe by obtaining the greatest possible benefits from the natural advantages offered by the waters of the Zambezi River through the most economical and effective means of providing water for generation of electricity and for other purposes which the contracting states may decide upon.

Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority Holdings general manager (stakeholder relations) George Manyaya said he could not speak on contingency measures that Zesa  intends to put in place over the worsening power crisis.

“The government agency has already pronounced its position on the matter and a Press conference was held by the minister on that matter. I am therefore unable to speak after what has already been said by a higher authority,” he said.

Last year in December, Energy minister Edgar Moyo said negotiations were underway to increase electricity imports while the rehabilitation of Units 1 to 6 at Hwange Power Station was being speeded up to boost electricity supplies and bring to an end the ongoing load-shedding regime.

Moyo assured stakeholders that swift measures were being taken to restore normal power supplies and support key economic sectors.

However, progress in that regard has been slow.

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