Zambezi River Basin stateswork towards preventing total darkness

by Clever Mafuta

Faced with a crippling shortage of electricity, Zambezi basin riparian states are making efforts to increase power generation and distribution, and prevent total darkness.

Despite the electricity shortages, the Zambezi River Basin is well-endowed with large deposits of coal, uranium and gas, as well as abundant water resources for hydropower generation.

The basin also has long hours of sunshine, fair wind speeds and biomass for the generation of electricity from solar, wind and biogas, respectively.

According to the State of the Environment Zambezi Basin 2000, the Zambezi River has an estimated hydro-power generation capacity of 20,000 mega watts (MW), which is almost enough to meet the energy requirements of the eight riparian countries. However, only 23 percent of this potential has been developed.

The basin is also said to have a large potential to generate thermal power. All the known, exploitable coal reserves for Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe are found in the Zambezi River Basin. The four countries have 1,986 million tonnes of coal reserves of which 86 percent is found in Zimbabwe. Namibia, which has the second largest recoverable uranium reserves in Africa after South Africa, has a potential to generate nuclear electricity. Only South Africa's Koeberg power plant presently produces nuclear electricity in Africa.

According to the World Energy, Namibia was the second producer of uranium in Africa in 2002 after Niger, producing 2,333 tonnes. Other known uranium reserves in the Zambezi River Basin are found in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Although solar power is largely used in simple traditional applications such as lighting and heating, encouraging results in its use have been achieved in Namibia and Zimbabwe. Using their potential for electricity generation, Zambezi River Basin riparian countries, through the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), are making efforts to ease current energy shortages.

Zambia and the United Republic of Tanzania, both basin states, and Kenya have decided to link their power utilities in a move meant to ease electricity shortages for the three countries. The Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya Power Interconnection Project, is expected to facilitate the sharing of electricity between Tanzania and Kenya, and the Southern African Power Pool, improve efficiency in electricity transmission and reduce electricity costs.

The interconnection will be developed in two phases at an estimated cost of US$660 million. The first phase, to cost US$358 million, is scheduled to start in late 2007 and will be completed by 2009. It will build a transfer capacity of 200 MW of electricity.

Phase two is to cost US$302 million for another transfer capacity of 400 MW upon completion in 2014. Other projects planned for the Zambezi River Basin include three thermal power stations that Zimbabwe intends to construct with support from China.

A Zimbabwean firm, Ele Resources, has entered into a US$1.3 billion deal with China Machine-Building International Corporation for a joint venture that will result in the development of three thermal power stations and a coalmine in the Zambezi valley.

The first of the power projects will be ready for electricity generation by the end of 2009, according to Evison Musangeya, chief executive of Dande Capital Holdings, the parent company of Ele Resources.

South Africa, which exports electricity to the Zambezi River Basin countries, is planning three big projects to cater for an anticipated six percent economic growth in South Africa and the resultant growth in power demand.

A new coal-fired power station would be built in the Limpopo province, and will have an output of 2,250MW. The other project would see the construction of a 1,332MW pumped storage station in the Drakensberg, while an opencycle gas turbine with a capacity of 1,022MW would be built in the Western Cape.

The projected shortage of power in southern Africa by 2007 has already gripped the region with most of the mainland SADC countries facing severe and incessant power outages.

Load shedding has become the order of the day in the bulk of the mainland SADC countries, including most of the eight Zambezi River Basin riparian countries. In Botswana there are growing concerns over continuous power disruptions although these are not viewed as an indicator of a developing trend.

Zimbabwe, which imports 35 percent of its electricity requirements, is experiencing regular electricity blackouts with serious consequences on industry, agriculture and domestic consumers.

Namibia introduced load shedding in November 2005 following the closure for maintenance of the Koeberg nuclear power plant in South Africa from which the country drew its electricity imports.

South Africa which generates 41,298 MW and is a major exporter of electricity to the Zambezi River Basin countries has also been affected by recurrent electricity blackouts following closure of the Koeberg plant. The Eastern and Western Cape areas have been the most affected.

Tanzania, which mainly relies on hydro-electricity, has also experienced power shortages due to falling dam levels caused by little or delayed rains. Hydro-electricity accounts for 67 percent of the country's total available installed capacity. Tanzania has a total hydroelectric potential in excess of 4.7 Gigawatts of which only five percent has been developed.

Diminishing generation surplus capacity, growing demand and the non-viability of the largely state-owned energy generation industry are blamed for the crippling shortage of electricity. Little investment in the power generation sector in recent times has resulted in reduced capacity to share surplus electricity by the few exporting countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and South Africa.

The Zimbabwe's Daily Mirror quotes Ben Rafemoyo, the Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution Company managing director, as saying southern Africa is racing towards a situation where even current net exporters will confine themselves to their local markets.

The energy sector in southern Africa is largely state-funded, with most national providers charging non-economic tariffs. As a result the sector has not seen new investments coming on stream due to losses or the small profit margins realised.

The power outages in the basin have also been due to disturbances to the transmission system.

Bush fires have been blamed for some of the power outages. For example, in 2004 the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority lost 60MW after the Warren-Alaska transmission line tripped due to bush fires.

Similarly the Zambia Electricity Supply Company lost 115MW in 2004 due to fires caused by farmers who were preparing their land. 

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