Zimbabwe is going to launch a new unit at its Hwange coal-fired power plant by March in order to provide relief to the country’s citizens, who have been hit by frequent blackouts in recent months. Maybe nuclear energy might be a solution with the help of Russia.
Zimbabwe is suffering from an energy crisis and related frequent power outages as its main hydro-power plant fails to generate the necessary amount of electricity due to a significant drop in water levels in Lake Kariba.
Meanwhile, its coal-powered thermal plants are supposed to supply the base-load power, but the aging generators often break down.
Deputy Energy Minister Magna Mudyiwa stated that the new unit at the Hwange power plant is expected to increase the country’s installed electricity generation capacity by more than 14% to 2,400 megawatts (MW).
Another new unit will be commissioned soon after; however, she didn’t provide any details or specific information as to the timeline.
The Hwange power plant, located in the northwestern part of Zimbabwe, is the country’s largest coal-fired power station with 920MW installed capacity, and is comprised of six units. All of the units were commissioned in the 1980’s.
According to the government owned power entity the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC), it is the 14th largest thermal station in the Southern Africa region and generates about 40% of the country’s electricity needs.
The deputy minister noted that less than half of the country’s population has access to electricity, while the nation faces a significant deficit in terms of electricity generation, with power cuts lasting as long as 18 hours in recent days.
We have the capacity to generate up to 2100 megawatts from our power sources but at the moment we’re generating far less than that, about 1000MW. But our demand for electricity is about 1700MW so we have a serious deficit.
Zimbabwe has recently seen a decline in hydro-power generation due to a decrease in water levels in Lake Kariba, which is located along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The drop in the water level in the Lake, which is the main hydro-power source for both countries, is largely attributed to continuous droughts with low rainfall and excessive use of water for power generation.
This has forced the Southern African states to curtail power supply and introduce power rationing. At the same time, the efficiency of decades-old coal-fired utilities has decreased sharply over time, while demand for electricity has surged.
As of February 8, the Kariba South Power Station generated 318MW of power, lower than the 384MW produced at the Hwange Thermal Power Station.
The country also has several other smaller thermal power stations including Harare, Bulawayo, and Munyati, among which only the latter was on stream, generating 17MW of power.
This means that total local power generation was 719MW, falling short of the average daily demand of approximately 2,000MW.
According to the ZPC, the failure of the stations to generate power at the installed capacity levels is connected with challenges at the plants, as well as with limited coal supplies.
Part of the deficit, however, is offset by imports from regional neighbors, including Zambia and Mozambique. In Southern Africa, coal and water have been the mainstay of electricity production for a number years.
Countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Botswana boasts of huge deposits of coal and water bodies. However, recently other energy sources such as solar and wind has also been adopted in the region to complement especially fossil fuels.
Most African countries are grappling with power shortages in urban areas while some rural areas are not even covered by the national grid.
Some countries resort to importing power while others resort to load shedding to fill the gap. This calls for massive investment in the energy sector.
The main advantage is that nuclear is classified as clean energy and hence does not pollute the environment. However, the greatest challenges as history has proven is nuclear safety which can be countered by a very strong nuclear regulatory body before embarking on nuclear generation.
Despite having been used in European countries for a long time, nuclear energy are still not widespread in Africa in general. Reasons impeding nuclear energy development on the continent may include skill gaps and related costs.
Alternate source of energy will remove dependence on Lake Kariba (power station). The anticipated co-operation in the use of nuclear-energy for peaceful purposes will provide alternative sources of energy which Zimbabwe needs.
Small modular reactors offer a lower initial capital investment, greater scalability, and siting flexibility for locations unable to accommodate more traditional larger reactors.
They also have the potential for enhanced safety and security compared to earlier designs. Deployment of advanced SMR’s can help drive economic growth.
According to World Nuclear Association Russia commissioned the first ever SMR’s in 2019 with other countries expected to follow suit.
Sputnik / ABC Flash Point Nuclear Power Blog News 2023.