World’s Biggest Reservoir May Stop Power Output Amid Drought

(Bloomberg) -- Zambia risks having to switch off power production completely at the Kariba hydropower dam for the first time as water levels already at the lowest in more than two decades continue to drop, according to the state-owned electricity utility.

“The risk is there,” Patrick Mwila, strategy and corporate services director at Zesco Ltd., told reporters Thursday in Lusaka, the capital. “We are doing all that we can to ensure that that plant continues operating.”

Zambia and Zimbabwe depend on hydropower plants at Kariba, the world’s biggest man-made freshwater reservoir, for nearly half of their generating capacity. Consumers in each country have already faced daily power cuts lasting as long as 18 hours as water levels dropped to 10% of usable storage. Never before have the two countries had to completely switch off power generation because of low levels at the dam that straddles their border.

“The centimeters to rock bottom remaining is very little,” Mwila said. “And it’s standard practice not to go to rock bottom.”

The plant on the south bank of the dam in Zimbabwe is currently producing about 100 megawatts, compared with capacity of 1,050 megawatts, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a speech at Zimbabwe’s ruling-party conference on Friday.

The Zambezi River Authority, the regulator in charge of Kariba’s water use that Zambia and Zimbabwe jointly run, also warned that the power plants may have to shut completely, state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. reported on Wednesday, citing Chief Executive Officer Munyaradzi Munodawafa.

Rains that normally start in October were late, and precipitation in much of the Zambezi basin in Zambia was below normal by early December. Kariba’s levels usually start rising from January or February.

Zambia had already used up its entire annual water allocation by last month and faces penalties, Mwila said. The country now has a power deficit of as much as 810 megawatts.

Households and factories have borne the brunt of the power shortage in Zambia, as the government has sought to minimize the impact on the copper mining companies that provide about 70% of the country’s export earnings.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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