Adequate power generation key to economic development

Sibusiso Ndlamini

Electricity is of great importance to the economic development of all nations as its use is directly correlated with healthy economic growth.

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. As a developing nation, Zimbabwe relies mostly on hydroelectric power from the Kariba Dam. At peak Kariba dam should generate 1 050 megawatts (MW) of electricity following the addition of 300MW from Unit 7 and 8 that were commissioned by President Emmerson Mnangagwa last year. However, with the climate change-induced variations in weather patterns, the water levels in the dam have been decreasing significantly and power generation can no longer sustain the adequate distribution of electricity across the nation.

Energy and Power Development Minister, Advocate Fortune Chasi recently told a Parliamentary Portfolio on Energy that currently the water levels at Kariba were below 30 % and that this had was the major contributor to the ongoing load shedding.  The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) rolled load shedding at the beginning of last month to manage the demand for electricity during the winter season. According to the Minister, the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) is producing about 1200MW at peak against a maximum demand of about 1700MW leaving a deficit of about 350-400MW that is being managed through load shedding.

The load shedding that is occasioned by low power generation has been crippling the industrial sector. For instance, continuous load shedding has implications on the mining industry. Thus when power fails, workers may be trapped in the mine shafts, and there will be a risk of failure of operations leading to break downs, which can impact negatively on the performance of the economy.

Also, poor power generation causes problems for the agriculture sector. Most irrigation lines are run by electricity, incessant power cuts affect crop growth leading to crop yield decreases. In Zimbabwe the winter wheat crop relies on electricity for irrigating the crop. Thus, if there are continuous power cuts, the production of wheat will be affected and this reduces the output hence wheat shortages on the market.

Access to energy varies widely among countries. The prevailing shortage of hydro-electricity in the country should be an eye opener to stakeholders in the energy sector to consider investing in alternative power generating forms such as renewable energies. Renewable energies such as solar, biogas and wind have the potential of allowing development in the country. Green energy should be the way to go as investing in renewable energies has more economic benefits. For instance, Zimbabwe has plenty of sunshine throughout the whole year which could be exploited for power generation to meet the country’s energy needs.

Apart from development, renewable energies have the potential to provide increased security and economic stability. The increased use of renewable energy sources would reduce dependence on expensive fossil fuel imports and would help the country to improve its balance of payments. Renewable energy projects can also have a significant impact on job creation.  For example, the ethanol program in Brazil generated almost a million new jobs in its rural areas.

Rural dwellers in Zimbabwe where there are no industries should have solar power at their homesteads mainly for lighting, fridges and ironing. Solar farms are a necessity in rural areas. If most houses consider using solar as their form of energy, that it would lessen the demand of electricity on the national grid.

Electricity demand will also reduce, if people in towns and cities could use dual forms of electricity in their homes. This means that households could install solar power systems and connect their homes to the national electricity grid where they can use the two at an interchangeable rate.

The use of biogas should also be considered as an alternate of non-renewable power generation especially in the rural areas most of which are not connected to the national grid. This results in the destruction of forests due to the use of firewood for cooking. .

In Nigeria, its energy grid is arguably in crisis due to lack of development. The key to making a more reliable energy sector is to find and use renewable energy resources, rather than simply relying on the country’s non-renewable resources for power generation.

Independent Power Producers (IPP) should also contribute immensely to power development. The Ministry of Energy and Power Development should consider giving IPP licences to people with the necessary financial and technical capacity to roll out smaller and complementary power projects. IPPs should also be monitored on how they will be producing power, and where possible, targets should be set and met.

The ministry should also ensure that the IPP which are licensed are given timeframes within which to implement their projects failing which they would be de-licensed to pave way for more serious investors.