The Sunday Mail
President E.D. Mnangagwa
Until now, many in our society thought climate change was merely academic. Not any more after the decision last week by the Zambezi River Authority to drastically limit power generation at Kariba.
We are down to a mere 300 megawatts. Like us, Zambia, our neighbour and partner on Lake Kariba, has had to reduce generation, and will embark on load shedding. Live water levels in the Lake have fallen precipitously, leaving us reeling from severe power deficits, at the very least between now and April, when we hope the water level will begin to rise again. The frequency of falling water levels in the lake is increasing, showing our region is clearly getting less and less rainfall because of El Niño and climate change.
Kariba contributes almost half of our power needs, which is why a reduction in its generation capacity immediately registers throughout our economy, and in our lives. The remainder of our power comes from a number of thermal stations, led, of course, by Hwange Power Station. Ordinarily, Hwange Power Station’s six generators, augmented by another two we will commission shortly, should ameliorate this power deficit. Yet this is not so, given that the six generators are nearing the end of their lives, and, thus, require refurbishment or replacement.
The good news is that we have secured US$310 million we need to refurbish the six old generators. Hwange 7 is now on test run; we should commission it before year-end. Hwange 8 is also on course, and will be ready to augment our power supply in the second quarter of next year, 2023.
Several smaller thermal power stations are being worked on to work closer to their installed capacity. These, alongside private power generators, should give us at least another 45 megawatts. Still, we will be far from the 2 200 megawatts we need to maintain existing capacity in the economy. Besides, more energy-intensive projects are coming on stream, meaning the demand for power continues to outstrip supply.
Last week, upon realising this dire situation, I convened an urgent meeting for all Government Departments involved in power generation, whether directly or indirectly through support services. Our focus must now be broader than the Ministry of Energy and Energy Development. Energy is pervasive. The Transport Ministry, particularly its rail arm, has a big role to play; it has to deliver enough coal to all thermal stations, all of which must fire at full capacity.
We have to revisit our whole licensing regime to speed up entry into the sector by new players, and to encourage more independent power producers, especially in the critical area of renewables. The licensing regime must respond to viability concerns of such investors, whose support our economy now so desperately needs.
We have to engage sister countries in our SADC region with excess power to export to us. We urgently need to plug the current deficit through more imports. Enough resources have to be mobilised for that to happen. They will be mobilised. The cost of importing power is relatively less than a slowdown in industry, whose capacity utilisation has been rising steadily. Or stoppages altogether, not to mention delays in new investments caused by power shortages. Such an eventuality makes us unattractive to investments, foremost, foreign direct investments, which are so hard to attract, and can easily choose other country destinations. I am concerned about power-related stresses which industry is currently facing. Solutions will be found urgently.
The new situation which climate change occasions now demands that we climate-proof the whole economy, and not just a few sectors we all along thought were more exposed to this global climate crisis.
The negative transmission from climate crisis is instant and encompassing, thus requiring a broader template and response.
It is no longer water for agriculture only; it is now water for power generation, which means water for all sectors.
We have seen many leading economies reneging on global commitments to ending thermal power. This should teach us a lesson; we cannot be sentimental about coal while our industries die from power shortages, and when no support to clean energy transition is coming from those most to blame for destroying the global climate. We have abundant coal; it must be harnessed to meet our energy needs.
A broader national response to the ensuing energy crisis means all hands on the deck, including the private sector.
The Government and the private sector must now begin a conversation on what, together, we need to do to step up investments in renewables. We have enough sunshine; we have enough land for solar farms. We must now move together, in concert, so we step up investments in energy. We now all know and appreciate the costs that come with power shortages.
We have a blueprint which targets households to run on solar, so we remove them from the national grid. In Government, we are already incorporating solar systems in packages which public servants enjoy. Such employer-assisted interventions, across the sectors, will see us speedily migrating more households to solar.
I, thus, call upon both public and private sectors to take this on board as a condition of service. Where an employer does that, some kind of carbon credit must redound to him by way of tax rebates. This, surely, can be worked out by our fiscal authorities. After all, this is far cheaper than importing more power, including for use by households.
The Guruve-Muzarabani oil and gas project could not have come at a better time. Nor can it progress fast enough for our economy. We need it in our overall energy matrix. Of course, I know this is a complex investigation and operation; still it does not stop me from wishing all those involved God’s speed!
Nyika inovakwa nevene vayo. No problem is beyond solution where there is strong national resolve. We will overcome the temporary energy challenge we currently face.