Losing energy: Perm Sec Magombo on why we’re in the dark, and what her Ministry is doing about it

Energy Perm Sec Gloria Magombo: Looking to plug the gap

A perfect storm of breakdowns at Hwange’s aged power plants, failure of a unit at Kariba, and a fire that took out transmission lines caused the worst outages in years this week, the Energy Ministry says.

Gloria Magombo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, has given a briefing to the press on why power cuts dramatically worsened this week, and what the government is doing about it in the short and long term.

The current round of power cuts may ease over the coming days, she says. In the long term, “we will keep limping”, admits Magombo, while major projects by government and private players are being completed.

We summarise her remarks below:

What happened?

We had lost a number of units at Hwange, which were due to tube leaks. These are occurrences which we have had over the past couple of months, due to the age of the equipment. We have also had challenges at Kariba and we have restored one of the units back into service.

The situation was exaggerated on the 27th when we had a system fault which took the whole system out, an incident that lasted about four-and-half hours. Within that period, an event initiated by a bush fire on the Alaska-Warren line number 2 took out the line. Consequently, a number of other lines were lost, including the line carrying imports.

Scene of fire damage that affected power lines

What’s being done in the near term?

We managed to restore all seven units in Kariba within four and a half hours, together with the power from imports and IPPs. For Hwange, units 3 and 4 have started firing. By end of day (Wednesday) we had two units at Hwange back in service, with about 245MW added to the grid.

This caused serious load shedding because the supply gap was higher than normal. We’re working on another two units at Hwange. By Friday we’ll have four units at Hwange, giving us nearly 400MW, which should significantly improve the power supply situation.

The target is to make sure that all the units which are out now – except for Unit 5, which has gone under major overhaul, so that we start rehabilitating it for the long term – will be back in service and reduce the supply gap. We had a 245MW supply gap this morning, so if I bring in 160MW tomorrow, that gap closes further.

In the long term?

Unit 7 at Hwange is above 95%. Commissioning of the different circuits have started. We expect this unit to supply a commercial load of 300MW onto the system by end of November. Unit 8 will come in by the end of the first quarter in 2023.

Unit 7 is critical because it will bring us 300MW. The current units have been coming on and off, so we will continue to limp, but the supply-demand gap will get closer.

After we bring in the 600MW (from Units 7&8), we will be more stable. But we recognise that there is demand which is increasing. So we have not stopped building new capacity. We have the private sector implementing solar projects.

A worker walks beneath a cooling tower at Hwange Power station’s Phase 8, currently under construction, in Hwange (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)


What about renewable energy and Independent Power Producers?

We have about 10MW coming from solar.

We have facilitated access to funding in the form of prescribed asset status to ensure IPPs access funding locally. There have been challenges to secure funding for such projects due to various issues related to the country.

Soon, we will be launching a procurement process for new capacity and have a solar integration plan, which includes storage.

We then have small hydro-plants; Pungwe and Tsanga. Together, they are doing 5MW. At this time of the year, most mini-hydros go into maintenance because water levels are low.

We have 12MW from Gwanda waiting to be put online. PPC is building 30MW, which they will bring in by early next year. Zhonxin (thermal plant in Hwange) is doing about 30MW. Hippo Valley is supplying about 7MW.

Is Zimbabwe importing power?

We are importing 85MW from Eskom (South Africa), 50MW from HCB (Mozambique) and 100MW from Zesco (Zambia) on a prepayment agreement.

Imports are constrained. We have a firm agreement with Eskom of up to 85MW and a non-firm agreement of up to 300MW. Usually, we would have gone to take that additional 300MW. But, at the moment, because of their own internal challenges, they are not able to do so.

We had demand of 1700MW and projecting (supply) 1345MW of power including imports.


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