Zimbabwe is now pinning hopes of improved power supply on the commissioning of unit 7 at the Hwange Power Station as water at the Kariba hydroelectric plant has fallen to a critical level while existing generators at Hwange have become 'so unreliable,' an official said.
Dam level of usable live water for generating power had dropped to 6,6 percent as of yesterday, according to ZESA Holdings internal statistics obtained by Business Weekly.
Three generators at Hwange were shut down on Wednesday because of boiler tube leaks and the plant was running on two units, producing 231 megawatts, the statistics show.
At Kariba, three units are down for various maintenance works and the plant was producing 475 MW. However, given the critically low dam water level, Kariba does not necessarily need all generators to be producing at full throttle.
To make matters worse, all of the country's small power units - Harare,Munyati and Bulawayo, were shut down due to coal shortages.
Although independent power producers are supplying 29 MW to the grid and 290 MW are being imported from Zambia, South Africa and Mozambique, this remains inadequate to meet local demand.
Yesterday's output level left the country with a deficit of 612 MW, the statistics show.
Power and Energy Development Minister Zhemu Soda said given the low water level at Kariba and recurrent breakdown at Hwange, the country was now looking forward to the commissioning of unit 7 at Hwange expected to feed 300 MW.
Kariba South, a 1050 MW hydropower plant, is Zimbabwe's largest power station but is currently unable to produce consistently at optimal capacity due to the critically low water level.
Zimbabwe may not be able to draw much power from Kariba until late in the first quarter of next year.
'Our hope now lies on unit seven,' Soda told Business Weekly in an interview. '(Exiting) units at Hwange are coming out anytime and it's no longer a surprise for us because the equipment has become too obsolete and we can't rely on them.'
Synchronisation of systems and testing for compliance of unit seven are already underway in preparation for commercial production.
Soda said the commercial production may begin later this month or early December. Unit eight, for an additional 300MW, is expected to come online during the first quarter of next year.
Minister allayed fears of coal shortages, saying the stockpiling of the fuel was progressing 'very well.'
'Although we are concerned about the water level at Kariba, Zambezi River Authority (which manages the lake)
has advised us that we may continue generating and are also expecting early inflows to the lake due to early rains,' said Soda.
After the commissioning of the Hwange 7 and 8, Zesa intends to start major rehabilitation of the existing units to restore the plant's rated capacity to 920 MW. Already, the Government has secured US$310 million from the Export-Import Bank of India for the exercise.
The rehabilitation will be done in phases.
The Government contracted Sino-Hydro to fund the expansion of Hwange in a deal worth US$1,2 billion.