State utility Zesa Holdings has warned citizens to brace for significantly worsening blackouts over the next month due to breakdowns at their main coal plant.
The outages are attributed to technical faults at the Hwange Power Station and scheduled maintenance on one of its units. As a result, the Energy and Power Development minister, Edgar Moyo, has made a plea to independent power producers (IPPs) to step in and prevent a complete blackout across the nation.
Zimbabweans are already grappling with prolonged load-shedding, enduring up to 12 hours of power cuts per day. Zesa has reported reduced electricity generation at the Hwange coal-fired power station due to the technical faults. Additionally, the maintenance work scheduled for Hwange Unit 7, which was synchronized in March 2023, is expected to take place over the next 30 days. This maintenance is a statutory requirement that necessitates taking the unit offline after a specified running period.
To address the ongoing maintenance issues affecting the transmission and distribution network, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) recently announced new tariff adjustments. These adjustments aim to assist the power utility in resolving numerous faults. The latest tariff award translates to an average of 13.28 US cents per kilowatt-hour for all customers.
During an annual strategic plan performance review workshop, Minister Moyo highlighted the need for Zesa to focus on reducing losses during power transmission. He emphasized the importance of IPPs in complementing the government’s efforts to address energy challenges. Currently, IPPs contribute over 90 MW of power to the national grid, a capacity that is expected to increase to over 130 MW by the end of the year through various ongoing projects.
Despite having licensed over 100 small IPP projects over the past five years, with a combined capacity of approximately 1,300 MW, many of these projects remain non-operational. The Gwanda Solar Project, awarded to businessman Wicknell Chivayo, has faced legal battles and delays in delivery. The power cuts experienced in the country are severely impacting businesses, with some being forced to scale down operations and temporarily lay off employees.
Representatives from various sectors, including the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe, have expressed concerns about the detrimental effects of prolonged power cuts on industries and essential services, such as healthcare.
Minister Moyo assured that efforts are underway to operationalize Hwange Units 7 and 8, enabling maintenance work to be conducted without interrupting power distribution. The completion of the expansion project will also allow the life extension project for Hwange units 1 to 6 to proceed, aiming to achieve the installed capacity of 1,400 MW.
Zesa previously abandoned the Mutare peaking power station project due to the high cost of using diesel for electricity generation. The 100 MW Dema diesel power plant, built by Sakunda Holdings in 2016, has also been abandoned.
The current power challenges in Zimbabwe highlight the urgent need for reliable and sustainable energy solutions to meet the country’s growing demand and prevent disruptions to daily life, businesses, and essential services.