Friday, 13 February 2015

Zesa and Eskom are they 'agents of darkness?'

HARARE - There are more similarities than just being mere electricity generators for Zimbabwe's Zesa and its counterpart, Eskom from South Africa. The two power utilities represent their respective countries, but of late they have been found wanting in their dispensation of duties.
Zesa and Eskom are they 'agents of darkness?'
Lately, Zesa has been condemned by many and its acronym has been shifted to mean: "Zimbabwe Electricity Sometimes Available" after the nation has endured prolonged power rationing that has left the population reeling with anger considering the switch off has been random and does not follow any laid down formats.

Such has been the unreliability of Zesa that many Zimbabweans are now relying on domestic gas, paraffin and other sources of fuel for their domestic power needs. The aging Zesa infrastructure has deemed power supply a total hassle as the supply grid always collapses especially during the rainy season.

In South Africa, Eskom maintains that maintenance issues are the principal reason for the current shortfall of electricity but it is delays at the two power giants that are costing it and the country dearly. Load shedding has become inherent in South Africa and the power utility is refusing to shoulder the blame. Eskom's failed bet that Kusile and Medupi (power stations) which are four years behind schedule would already be on line means the utility is not earning revenues from the two giant nonstarters and has to fund the stratospheric capital and interest cost itself.

Eskom has said that the delays mean that 5 000 megawatts, roughly the amount that each of the two plants will be able to produce when they are operational, is not in line. This amounts to an estimated annual loss of R30 billion from electricity sales alone. Life in Zimbabwe is also equally gloom. Zesa in its communiqué to the nation promised that power shedding would be eased in 2015. However, the promises have not seen the light of the day. Recurrent power outages are still in place.

"The easing of load shedding is a result of stability in electricity generation as all our power stations are contributing significantly to the national power grid. The power utility has stable power purchase agreement with Hydro Cahora Bassa of Mozambique where we are 50MW with a possibility of getting even more subject to availability at source," revealed the utility's spokesperson.

During peak periods, Zimbabwe consumes 2 200MW of electricity against an internal capacity of 1 200MW, meaning the 1 000MW balance has to be imported. Zesa and Eskom have been operating like misfiring engines for their respective countries.

The two South African power stations were supposed to fire in 2011 as was originally intended; many of Eskom's woes would have been averted. In a bid to keep the lights on in recent years, the utility neglected the maintenance of its power stations, and says it needs breathing room of about 5 000MW (an eighth of its current installed capacity of 40 000MW) to perform planned maintenance without the risk of load-shedding.

Zimbabwe Power Company, a subsidiary of Zesa has begun the expansion of Kariba South Hydro Power Station and Hwange Thermal Power Station to enhance their generating capacity. The contract set to consume billions will be funded from a Chinese financier and is set to last for years. Provided he funds remain flowing, normal electricity supply would be restored but with the financial constraints experienced in the country; it might take a longer period.

Answers provide by the two energy providers are always deceiving. Asked by the Mail and Guardian, "what the total interest bill projected to be for both Kusile and Medupi?" Eskom replied: "The cost of the capital for the projects forms part of the estimated cost of the project."
Zimbabweans are in the dark on how the recurrent power shortages will end. The Zesa publicist insists that prudent conservation methods would lessen the power outages

"Chief among those initiatives is the installation of pre-paid meters wherein 95 percent of domestic premises countrywide have been covered and consumers have become aware of conserving electricity as they are now paying before consuming. The energy saving initiative through pre-paid meters has resulted in a saving of between 23 and 27 percent rate, a development that has significantly relieved the national electricity grid hence a reduction in load-shedding."

While Zimbabwe consumes a fraction of South Africa's total energy needs, the two nations' have underestimated their power needs. Johannesburg has a wide rural electrification programme and a network of illegal power connections, while Zimbabwe's companies are struggling to pay power bills with the biting economy. The costs to build Medupi and Kusile were initially estimated to gobble R69 billion and R80 billion respectively. But the latest (outdated) figures estimates have risen to 154 billion and 172 billion respectively.

Sino-Hydro Corporation, a Chinese firm contracted to refurbish the two power project in Zimbabwe has been accused of inflating prices for the project. The original cost was pegged at $355 million but it has ballooned to $533 million. This figure has been defended by the company saying, "The amount of $533 million referred to the overall cost of the project... for Kariba South Power Station, we have to start anew, building everything for the power station from ground zero. The extra work nevertheless leads to additional costs." - Gossip Panda.
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