Editorial Comment: Power generation key to the success of Zim-Asset

SOUTHERN Africa as a whole is short of electricity-generating capacity and Zimbabwe in particular faces serious shortages despite being able to import a modest amount; the continual load-shedding we all endure is proof of that.

Yet all our plans for economic growth, headed by Zim-Asset, require significant extra generation of electricity with the desirable processing of our mineral wealth before export being especially demanding of extra energy. Unless we can source a lot of extra electricity we are not going to be able to grow our economy, and so make our country and people richer, very fast.

There are now two schemes being implemented. The first to be ready will be expansion of Kariba South. This will help Zesa cope with peak demand.

But the 300 megawatts it adds to generation capacity is not going to add much to total energy generation, since Zimbabwe and Zambia already use the full flow of the Zambezi through Kariba. Rather, the addition will allow Zesa to push up generation during the day, and especially peak hours, but cut back at night when demand falls.

The second scheme, the extension of Hwange Thermal, adds 600MW to capacity and should in fact add a little more to the effective capacity by allowing the full 860MW already installed at Hwange to be fully used; at present limits on the cooling capacity have never allowed Zesa to run Hwange flat out. In practice a 70 percent expansion of Hwange will roughly double what we in practice get from that station.

The Hwange and Kariba upgrades are complementary, Hwange giving extra energy and Kariba South giving Zesa the ability, which it lacks at present, of boosting electricity deliveries in peak periods.

But both these schemes are 1980s plans. They were discussed forever in that decade and there was general consensus that they should both be implemented in the 1990s.

Surplus capacity in Sadc during that decade allowed postponement of the two schemes, imports being able to fill Zimbabwe’s gaps; deficient capacity in Sadc now has demanded both to be implemented and in retrospect we should have implemented both a lot sooner.

But even when both are on tap we are likely to be short of both energy and power. So we need, now, to be looking at the next schemes.

The 1980s planners had those lined up: a large thermal station at Grass Roots and another hydro scheme on the Zambezi, at Batoka Gorge since the environmental cost of that dam was far lower than the original plan of Mupata Gorge. Batoka would, however, be largely run-of-river, since there would be little storage, so would require even more extensions of the two Kariba stations downstream and some complex management of the whole Zambezi system.

Basically, generation would be cut back at Kariba while the Zambezi was in flood, allowing Lake Kariba to rise to its maximum level with the bulk of the generation done at Batoka and then as the river flows fell Batoka would cut back sharply and the expanded Kariba stations would take the load.

Grass Roots would be simpler, and coal is now already being mined in the area.

Modern thermal designs would reduce the pollution and carbon loads. There is the capital cost, and electricity prices, which are created as an average of the lower cost older schemes already paid for and the higher prices of newer schemes where instalments are needed each month, would rise.

But major industrial and minimising customers, already having to use very expensive diesel generators, will pay more for grid power guaranteed 24 hours a day seven days a week and we suspect that many domestic users would pay more for the same guaranteed energy, saving money on candles, paraffin, firewood and stove gel.

Certainly if the questions are asked in the right way, that is, ‘how much would you pay for continuous power’, planners will have adequate information to see what they can pay new investors into generation.

This is because the most obvious way of adding a new power station is not for Zesa to borrow yet more money but to see if there are investors willing to build the station and sell the electricity to Zesa, who would bear the costs of the grid extensions to reach the new station.

The critical factors facing a potential investor are what it would cost them to build a station, run a station and the price they could get for their output. With generating capacity so deficient they do not have to worry if they have a market; basically what they can produce they can sell.

With even modest economic growth Zimbabwe needs that new station almost immediately, so the time for detailed planning is now. The extensions to Hwange and Kariba South will be used as soon as they come on-stream, so we are likely to be still short then. If we can start building the third big station very soon it will be on-stream in time to take up that new demand.

This means that Government, Zesa, the mining and industrial sectors and potential investors need to start talking immediately. Pricing calculations can be done in Zimbabwe.

Zesa itself has that skills capacity and there are competent consultants in Zimbabwe who can, if they need to do, plug into global consultancies they have connections with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If everyone moves together swiftly we cannot see why by the end of this year we cannot have fairly detailed plans, with costs and likely electricity tariff forecasts included and within a very few years be back where we should be, that everyone has power when they turn on a switch. We have, in short, wasted two decades. We now must catch up.

At the same time we need to look beyond the catch up process. Everyone for decades has been talking about the ultimate scheme, Grand Inga on the Congo River downstream of Kinshasa. That scheme, costed at around US$80 billion, would have 52 generators each the size the present Kariba South and would satisfy all extra Southern African demand for a few decades and could be built in stages. Environmental costs would be negligible. Usefully the biggest customer, Gauteng, would be at the end of a delivery line that would have to pass through or close to Angola, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, all energy deficient countries.

Political stability in Angola has arrived and is in sight in the DRC, with the west of that country already stable. This stability is important if Inga is to provide 40 percent of Sadc power. The time for desultory discussion and pre-feasibility studies is long past. At the very least we now need the regional political decision to proceed with more detailed financial and technical planning, which will have to sort out a welter of options on finance, ownership, routing, costs, royalties to the DRC and other factors so that power can start flowing in the 2020s when Southern Africa as a whole will almost certainly need something of this size.

We have all learned in our countries and in the region that more than talk is required and that some decisions simply cannot be postponed. If detailed schemes are on the table then planners can give decision deadlines for building to start and new capacity to be on-stream the day it is required.