Southern Africa’s hydropower sector is reeling from the effects of the drought caused by the intense El Niño weather phenomenon. With allied power infrastructure unable to provide the needed supplemental electricity, is the region left with no choice but to ride out the hard times?
Many countries in southern Africa are facing extended periods of drought or low rain, owing to the ongoing El Niño weather phenomenon. The impact of the drought is so pronounced that various governments in the region label it as the worst in decades. For example, industry reports reveal that the government of South Africa considers it as the worst since 1982, while the Zimbabwean Ministry of Agriculture compares it to the economically crippling drought of 1992, which affected close to 86 million people across 10 countries.
Several countries in southern Africa depend on hydropower generation for an essential amount of their electricity supply. In fact, industry studies estimate that hydropower is responsible for more than 21% of power generation in the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP, a common electricity market among 12 southern African countries) in 2015. Thus, depressed water levels at major dams, due to drought and extended low-rain season, can bring about significant power generation challenges, which lead to widespread blackouts, causing inconvenience to residents and operational interruption to businesses and industries.
The electricity-related effects of the drought are looming large in several countries in the region. In a recent release by Control Risks (an independent global risk consultancy), it reported that the ongoing drought had aggravated the already-precarious electricity situation of the SAPP. In Mozambique, for instance, the country’s National Water Board claimed that main hydropower facilities were struggling to keep up with the power generation requirements. In Zambia, meanwhile, Energy Minister Dora Siliya said that the water level at the Kariba dam, which accounts for a lion’s share of power generation capacity in Zambia and Zimbabwe, was “extremely dangerous”.
Persistent blackouts and continual load shedding hurt the economy of southern African countries. Regular power interruption threatens to rein in the region’s economic growth, and to suppress the successes that southern African countries have achieve in recent years. In recognition of the urgency of the situation, the region’s governments have launched various short-, medium- and long-term solutions to the power challenges, including improving and maintaining hydropower and other power stations, enhancing electricity generation capacity, and managing electricity demand. Such solutions, however, can take years, even decades, to complete, and with the gravity of the present situation, it is safe to assume that countries in the region could not afford to wait that long.
With all due respect to the efforts launched by the governments, we observe that the need of the hour is an efficient power solution that is able to immediately and economically bridge the gap in electricity supply. Multi-megawatt temporary power plants represent a viable short- to medium-term solution to the region’s hydropower challenges.
A feasible solution to southern Africa’s power challenges
Temporary power plants represent an immediate, reliable, scalable and cost-efficient solution to the region’s power concerns.
The installation of temporary power plants does not call for extensive site preparation nor for the refurbishment of transmission and distribution grids, which can take anywhere between months and years to finish. As soon as the generators and other power equipment arrive on site, they can be immediately installed, commissioned and powered on within days. In a matter of days, countries in southern Africa will be supplied with a consistent and reliable electricity supply.
The governments, power utility providers, nor industries and businesses in southern Africa will not need to spend scarce financial resources on capital expenditure, which is usually the case when procuring large-scale power equipment of building permanent power facilities. The governments and other industry stakeholders can conveniently pay for the rented electricity from their operating revenues. As industry activities grow and the requirement for electricity increases, they can simply choose to add more power modules to the temporary power plant, precluding the need to buy additional equipment or build other permanent facilities. By the same token, in case the power requirement decreases, the load of the temporary power plant can be proportionally adjusted.
Temporary power providers offer a full range of services, including operating and maintaining the power plants. They have well-trained, expert engineers that will ensure that the power plants run at the optimal level all the time.
As the region eases through its power challenges, and as soon as the long-term power sector development plans are gradually rolled out, the governments or the power utilities can simply choose to end the temporary power contract. The entire temporary power plant will be demobilized, leaving no idle power equipment nor permanent power plants running on part-load and requiring constant maintenance, servicing and upgrades.
Powering southern Africa’s success
Industrializing economies, such as the countries in southern Africa, need an efficient, reliable and continuous supply of electricity to sustain their social and economic activities that will spur their further growth. Temporary power solutions, in support of hydropower and other power generation stations, can immediately provide them with the much needed boost in power supply, paving their way into a sustainable and viable social and economic progress.
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