Region faces dark festive season
Gaborone – SADC member states could face a serious power crunch during the festive season after it emerged that South Africa’s power utility Eskom is currently struggling to meet that country’s rising needs and is pulling the plug on supplying its neighbours with power.
Eskom supplies electricity to neighbouring countries like, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.
There is fear that Eskom might be compelled to suspend the export of electricity to countries in the region such as Namibia, Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Observers say that the current energy situation in South Africa is the worst crisis in 40 years and the worsening power supply crisis in that country, which was recently hit by rolling black-outs after the collapse of a coal silo in Mpumalanga, was poised to affect the regional economic power house’s contribution to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP).
Despite South Africa pulling the plug on Botswana’s power supply, Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Kitso Mokaila assured members of the public that load shedding experienced in South Africa will not affect power supply in Botswana.
Speaking in an interview, Mokaila says while South Africa’s embattled national supply utility Eskom has cut off all its power supply to Botswana, the three power units at Botswana’s Morupule B station will be able to meet local demand over the festive season.
Mokaila said demand for electricity will drop because most of the industries will be closing for the Christmas holidays.
Botswana Power Corporation spokesperson, Spencer Moreri, has confirmed that “we have a supply mix that includes our facilities in Botswana and supply from South Africa. When the South Africans experience shortage from their side obviously it affects us too because they end up not able to supply us with electricity, hence the load shedding we have just experienced”.
Reports indicate that unlike Botswana, which relies on South Africa for most of its power supplies, countries such as Zimbabwe mostly supplement their constrained electricity generation with imports from Mozambique’s Hydro Cahora Bassa.
Research firm Frost and Sullivan told Business Report this week that constrained power generation by Eskom, which supplies ‘an amount of power’ to Mozambique, Swaziland, Namibia and Botswana, heavily impacted the southern African region. Johan Muller, the programme manager for energy at Frost and Sullivan, said the “current energy situation in South Africa is seen as the worst crisis,” in 40 years.
“Businesses are running at below optimal levels in order to avoid experiencing black-outs. Stability of power is essential to investment decisions, so it is expected that a direct impact will be felt on their (Southern African countries) foreign direct investments,” Muller said.
The World Bank’s latest Doing Business Report showed Botswana slipping in the category on access to electricity.
Although South Africa does not directly supply power to Zimbabwe, it indirectly contributes to the country’s power grid through its contributions to the SAPP, to which it is the biggest contributor.
Electrical engineers in Zimbabwe said “South Africa controls the frequency of the SAPP grid so sometimes we get power from Eskom as it controls the grid”. Zimbabwe was failing to meet demand and had started projects to build small thermal and hydro-power stations to improve the situation, which according to Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, could take about three years, media reports stated.
However some member states in the region have stabilised their power supply. NamPower managing director Paulinus Shilamba was in July this year quoted saying that there will be no load-shedding in the country this year because there is enough water for the Ruacana Power Station to generate adequate electricity.
“Currently, there is no crisis regarding electricity and there will be no load-shedding to be experienced this year. We have enough power at the moment to supply to the nation,” said Shilamba during a media tour of the power station.
He said that even though hydropower generation is relatively high, NamPower will always look for ways to lower consumption.
Shilamba also said the free solar water heaters and the light emitting diode (LED) bulbs project that was introduced last year will commence at the beginning of the winter season next year.
The Ruacana station manager, Benedictus Mingeli, is also quoted as saying that about 240 cubic metres of water flow through the generators per second producing up to 320 megawatts.
“Namibia imports less during the rainy season because that is the time when the Kunene River will be flowing heavily. We are currently busy with the turbine units replacements and the Omatando line upgrade projects,” said Mingeli.
The Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) has also said load shedding in the country has ended due to interventions the power utility has enforced.
ZESCO Public Relations Manager Henry Kapata is quoted as saying that ZESCO has done everything possible to ensure that the problem of blackouts which some parts of the country used to experience is a thing of the past.
Kapata stated that in rural districts, load shedding has almost come to zero adding that problems being experienced in the capital Lusaka is mostly due to illegal connections of welding equipment, hair salons and barber shops.