SOUTHERN AFRICA: Energy Pie Greater Than the Sum of its Parts

  • by Mufudzi Moyo (livingstone, zambia)
  • Inter Press Service

Demand for electricity in Malawi currently peaks above 300 megawatts, yet the country's generating capacity is only 285 MW. Assistant Director of Energy Affairs Joseph Kalowekamo told IPS that the CFLs project alone could lower demand by 30 MW.

Malawi currently gets virtually all its power from hydro plants on the Shire River, an outlet of Lake Malawi which flows into the Zambezi.

'Generation capacity at the moment is not enough. We are looking at investment which will include interconnection to the regional grid, generation from other rivers besides the Shire River and also from coal,' said Kalowekamo.

More water, less power

Kalowekamo’s biggest worry is not simply that the current generation capacity is too small; he worries about the drop in generating capacity that occurs during the flood season on the Zambezi River, into which the Shire River flows.

When the Zambezi is in flood, the large volume of water pushes water in the smaller Shire backwards. This effectively slows down generation along the Shire, and further pressure may actually bring the process to a standstill. The problem is at its worst when - as now - floodgates at the Kariba dam, far upstream on the Zambezi, are opened, but controlled release of that water is necessary for both flood control and to avoid damage to the dam.

Consultants are currently working on synchronising dam operations throughout the Zambezi Basin, in order to get optimal benefits in terms of both power generation and flood control.

This involves developing close contact and coordination between the operators of dams such as Zambia's Itezhi-tezhi and Kafue dams, Kariba - which is shared by Zambia and Zimbabwe, and at Mozambique's Cahora-Bassa Dam. Transmission lines to enable power generated in one location to be transferred elsewhere in the region gives dam operators greater flexibility.

'With cooperation on dams, regional power trade can improve with those generating power also selling more to those that are interconnected,' said Washington Nyabeze, a consulting engineer in the dam synchronisation project. 'Under the damming project, we are encouraging the expansion of the regional grid so more power can be moved across borders.'

Developing a framework

Consultants recently presented a set of reports to water officials and dam operators from across the Zambezi Basin at the Zambian tourist capital of Livingstone, from Feb. 14-17.

Kalowekamo said coordination among riparian states in managing the Zambezi river basin would help solve many of the region’s power problems.

'When we inter-connect on the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP), we may reduce our dependence on the Shire as we will be having the region to fall back on. Even if we do not produce that much electricity, we can help optimise production by our mere cooperation, for example in a dry season, we can release water so it can be used by those with more capacity downstream,' Kalowekamo said.

Coordinated management will encourage member states to harmonise power generation with other impacts of the dam.

'In some cases, the need to cater for other uses of the dam will see a country failing to generate as much energy as it may want,’’ said Odala Matupa, Southern African Development Community Programme Officer for Power. 'The project will seek to address the gap by encouraging countries to buy power from others.'

Transmitting benefits

Interconnection is key to this cooperation. With a clear and shared vision for this cooperation in place, plans to expand generating capacity can be developed to the benefit of the entire region.

Zambia is expanding its Kariba North generating plant with Zimbabwe planning to do the same at Kariba South, as well as considering a new plant at Batoka, 50 kilometres downstream. Mozambique also has plans to expand generation at Cahora-Bassa.

Transmission is just as important as generation in this scenario. According to Fari Gwariro, managing director of the Zimbabwe Power Company, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia are working on the ZIZABONA project, which is expected to provide an alternative to decongest the existing central transmission corridor that currently passes through Zimbabwe.

'These are part of the more than 40 projects which can be easily implemented and yield a lot of benefits should the dam synchronisation project succeed,' said Gwariro.

'Our energy systems would improve as more routes to move power between countries are opened. This would however require a lot of investment both for power generation plants and transmission systems.'

Matupa told IPS that existing trade in electricity between the likes of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and the DRC has already demonstrated the economic feasibility of the power pool.

'Trading is already taking place at affordable prices to the consumer, so more players should translate into even lower prices in the long term,' Matupa said.

It is proposed that the Southern African Power Pool be an active participant in the setting up of a centre for forecasting the flow levels of different rivers.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service