December 20, 2019

When Xmas lights are not as bright!

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•       Power shortage stalks Sadc region 

Makomborero Mutimukulu

CHRISTMAS lights in Southern Africa are unlikely to be shining as bright this year.

The Southern African Power Pool, a cooperation of the national electricity companies in 12 mainland member states, says drought and shortage of coal have the bloc in a dark spot.

“There is adequate installed capacity in the region, but there is inadequate power supply due to the drought that has resulted in low water levels in the hydro-power stations, particularly at Kariba, as well as unavailability of some coal fired power stations,” Sapp’s executive director Stephen Dihwa told Zimpapers Television Network.

Whilst the bloc’s power deficit stood at a reported 650 megawatts (MW) in June, people in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa have reason to feel that their respective countries are getting darker much faster than other Sadc member states.

Zimbabweans are experiencing 18-hour long power-cuts and are being forced to alter their working routines.

Reduced dam levels at Kariba have chocked power generation while a crippling shortage of foreign currency has seen the country struggle to import the electricity needed to cover the deficit.

Kariba Dam

 “The power-cuts have left us with little option but to introduce night shifts. Our work schedules are now being informed by the availability or non-availability of electricity,” said Anesu Nheweyembwa, a welder from Kuwadzana, a suburb 19 kilometers outside Harare’s Central Business District.

The use of generators is another option available to Nheweyembwa and other businesses, but Zimbabwe’s inconsistent energy supplies mean that the chances of spending several hours in a fuel or LP gas queue are very high.

People wait to fill up their gas tanks in Harare recently

“It’s a sticky situation,” he added.

“We hear that Zimbabwe has a deal to import electricity from South Africa, but wonder how that works because from what we hear, Eskom has started implementing some serious load-shedding in that country.”

At the beginning of December, Eskom, the South African power utility, escalated its load-shedding to stage two, amid warnings that Sadc’s largest economy is being weighed down by power insecurity.

The development saw South African President Cyril Ramaphosa cut short his state visit to Egypt and summon Eskom executives to an emergency meeting soon after his arrival back home.

President Ramaphosa put his foot down, instructing Eskom executives to cancel all leave until they came up with a plan to alleviate the electricity shortages.

“We felt we need to have an emergency recovery plan that is going to make sure we get rid of load shedding, and management has given us an assurance they are trying to stabilise the system and get more of the megawatts that we lost to be restored.

“They have given us an assurance that from December 17 right up to January 13 we should not be in a position to have any form of load-shedding. And going right through to March, they will be doing everything they can to restore the stability of the network,” the South African leader was quoted as saying by several media outlets.

But for Nothando Dhlomo, a student at Wits University, a solution that guarantees electricity supplies up until March next year is just not good enough.

“Studying in the dark is hell and while the President has assured us that the load-shedding we experienced during the second week of December is a thing of the past, at least until March, it is clear that a long term solution is needed,” she said.

While Dhlomo is readying herself for the job market, the chief executive of the National Small Business Chamber of South Africa recently warned that sustained load-shedding will lead to job losses.

“Job-creators are retrenching staff and/or going out of business,” the chamber’s chief executive Mike Anderson was quoted as saying by AFP.

In Zambia, power-cuts have also become the order of the day as low water levels at Kariba Dam have reduced power generation capacity, causing an 810 megawatt shortage.

When that country’s national football team The Chipolopolo played the Warriors of Zimbabwe in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on November 19 this year, Bonaventure Mwanza, a Zambian, missed kick off by close to 15 minutes.

“I couldn’t go to the match hungry; using charcoal to cook is not easy. The power-cuts have me in a fix.

“But I here we are not alone: Zimbabwe has it worse than us,” said the 36-year-old as he took his seat while also firing a friendly jab at his Zimbabwean friend, Munashe Mususa.  

Environmentalists in Zambia warn that the increased use of charcoal is accelerating the rate of deforestation.

Machoman Ndlovu selling firewood along Hwange Victoria Falls Road in Hwange recently. (Picture by Memory Mangombe)

But it’s not all dark and gloomy in Sadc.

 Dihwa, who heads a project mandated by the bloc “to provide the least cost, environmentally friendly and affordable energy and increase accessibility to rural communities” is confident of much brighter Christmases.

“The regional bloc has plans to install new generation projects, some of which are already in progress. The region is also working on interconnecting all the members so that through electricity trade all countries can access available electricity.

“In particular Angola currently has excess electricity yet it is not yet connected to the SAPP grid. Projects to interconnect Angola to DRC and Namibia are currently being pursued,” said Dihwa.

The Sapp executive director also reckons Sadc is well on its way to improving the power situation in a more cost effective and cleaner way, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Signed in 2016 The Paris Agreement, is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance.

 “Each country in the region is pursuing the implementation of clean energy generation projects as part of its fulfilment of Paris Agreement obligations.

“At regional level, Sapp is in the process of carrying out assessments to ensure that the operational impacts of large levels of such resources, especially the intermittent ones are properly managed,” added Dihwa.

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