Power utility ZESA this week popped champagne bottles after the synchronisation of the Hwange 7 power station into the national grid, following months of preparations to ensure a seamless process.
Reality soon dawned on ZESA executives yesterday after its generation units produced a paltry 361MW with the bulk of it (200MW) coming from Kariba despite restrictions on water for generation purposes due to low water levels.
Hwange had 161MW out of the installed capacity of over 1200MW if we add the number 7 unit. The small power stations at Harare Munyati and Bulawayo did not generate electricity, as has become the norm.
On Hwange, it means it was the new unit that generated yesterday.
Generation at the new unit is being done in phases with the power plant expected to reach its installed capacity soon.
There are fears that the phased approach will be abandoned for the unit to generate more amid a power crisis.
Another 300MW is expected from unit 8 in the coming months.
This would have resolved the country’s electricity challenges had attention been put on the six units at Hwange and the three thermal power stations at Harare, Munyati and Bulawayo.
These power units have become the missing link in Zimbabwe’s drive towards self-sufficiency and exporting excess power in the region.
Aging equipment at Hwange has meant that the six units generate way below their 920MW installed capacity. Nowadays, it is news when the small thermal power stations generate electricity.
The low hanging fruit could be Hwange’s six units as they can generate 920MW.
This is a crisis of major proportions amid fears it will slow down the manufacturing sector at a time capacity utilisation has been on the increase. The units have been neglected for a long time and Zimbabwe is paying the price for that.
They need to be revamped as of yesterday. Electricity is a key enabler in economic growth.
The economy requires reliable supplies of electricity to function. Companies cannot survive on diesel-powered generators. Miners are paying at a premium as they are importing directly from regional power utilities. The extra cost affects competitiveness as it increases the cost of production.
The burden should not be left on ZESA alone.
The government has to take a keen interest like it did on Hwange 7 and 8 for the six units to be brought back to life.
It can also whip those independent power producers to start generating and feed into the national grid.
The power crisis will be with us for a long time if those that are supposed to make decisions become spectators.
Hwange 7 could not mask the perennial challenges bedevilling the six units. It is not a big ask for the government to take the lead.