Fast power to beat the drought

Up to 200 MW of emergency power is poised to be utilized in response to one of Zimbabwe’s worst droughts, writes James Shepherd

Parts of Zimbabwe are suffering power shortages following one of the worst droughts in recent years that has significantly restricted the country’s hydropower capabilities.

Hydro accounts for more than 70 per cent of Zimbabwe’s electricity generation so an alternative power source was needed – and fast.

In April, Sakunda Holding commissioned Aggreko to supply 200 MW of power for the next three years, allowing it to successfully bid for government contracts and help to avoid the detrimental impacts power loss would have on the economy and living standards.

Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) has faced diminished water levels in the Kariba Dam, which contributes 60 per cent to the country’s power capacity, which meant the national utility was challenged with finding an effective alternative power source.

Renewable power sources are growing in popularity across sub-Saharan Africa, despite posing a significant risk to power stability (as has also been seen in Europe), which in turn can have a detrimental impact on the region’s long-term social and economic growth.

Modular power is a great bedfellow for renewables, both in the short term, to fill the gap created by intermittent extreme weather, and in the long term by providing an effective backup solution, minimizing the impact of unreliability that comes with wind and solar systems. It will continue to play an important role in the energy mix for this reason.

Zimbabwe is diversifying its sources of energy generation and developing a more resilient and efficient infrastructure to mitigate the risk of power loss associated with drought. Diversifying the energy mix is key not only to Zimbabwe but to all emerging markets, as one size does not fit all in our ever-changing world.

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This is the first time Aggreko has worked with a private or national utility in Zimbabwe. However, it does have a wealth of experience in sub-Saharan Africa and currently works with customers contributing to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), of which Zimbabwe is the chair and Harare the centre.

Where keeping the lights on is the government’s first priority, creating an opportunity to contribute to the SAPP and generate funds through international power trade is an advantage. It allows the country to become competitive, grow economically and become self-sufficient.

With the Aggreko power plant set to be running as early as the end of June, the effects will be instant.

While steps need to be taken to stabilize the Zimbabwean power infrastructure and network, creating a reliable source in the first instance is key. Modular power will continue to play a major role in power across Africa and all emerging markets, whether that’s by filling the gap during intermittencies or through planned maintenance and upgrades.

James Shepherd is Managing Director of Aggreko Africa. www.aggreko.com

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