Power play: ED plugs into regional connections in a desperate bid to keep the lights on

Mozambique's Cabora Bassa Dam, on the Zambezi, supplies power to the region

President Emmerson Mnangagwa will visit Mozambique and Zambia in a bid to save the country’s electricity import contracts that are being eyed by Eskom.

Mnangagwa’s trips come at a time when South Africa, which is undergoing an electricity crisis, seeks to replace Zimbabwe as an importer of electricity from Mozambique and Zambia.

“This week I am paying a working visit to Mozambique. In the coming weeks I am likely to meet president [Hakainde] Hichilema of Zambia in Livingstone. Both sister countries supply us with power,” Mnangagwa wrote in his weekly Sunday Mail column.

He said: “I will engage my colleagues with a view to ensuring our power imports are secure and uninterrupted.”

Most of Zimbabwe’s power needs are from the mining sector, Mnangagwa says.

“Even more unsettling is the fact that the bulk of the power demand is coming from the mining sector, including from projects for key minerals like gold, platinum, chrome, coal, diamonds, and lithium,” he said. 

Power utility ZESA last week said mines want an additional 2100MW by 2025.

“The increase in mine industry demand is also inducing other significant industrial loads,” ZESA chairman Sydney Gata said in a letter to the Chamber of Mines.

The country was producing just 1,100MW on Tuesday, about half of what experts say is Zimbabwe’s current peak demand.

Zimbabwe’s contract with Zambia’s Zesco was due to expire at the end of July. Zimbabwe struggles to pay its monthly obligation of US$6.3 million to Zesco for the imported power.

Gata warned that Zimbabwe “will stand to lose heavily as these contracts are long-term and at a competitive price”. Gata fears Eskom could sign longer deals with Zesco and keep Zimbabwe out of the picture for many years to come.

In 1995, Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states formed the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), which is Africa’s first formally advanced power pool.

However, while there are many problems, the biggest hurdle is transmission across the region because some member states are not active on the universal power grid. As such, a lot of power goes to waste.

News24 (additional reporting: newZWire)