Kariba Dam: Southern Africa’s Biggest Dam Halts Power Generation to Zimbabwe

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HARARE (Bloomberg) — The Zambezi River Authority has ordered the suspension of electricity generation on the Kariba Dam, which supplies energy to Zimbabwe’s power utility, until January due to a water shortage.

Water storage at the dam stands at 4.6% of capacity, below levels needed to run power generation operations at Kariba South Bank Power Station, the ZRA said in a letter dated Nov. 25 to the Zimbabwe Power Company. ZRA manages the dam on behalf of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe generates 1,050 megawatts of power from Kariba Power Station, half of its installed capacity of 2,100 megawatts.

Washington Mareya, acting managing director for Zimbabwe Power, said the company had no comment, other than to say it’s working on the issue.

Water levels at the Kariba dam are plunging toward record lows, threatening hydroelectricity production for Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The dam had 10.9% of usable storage this week, compared with 34.1% a year ago, according to data from the Zambezi River Authority.

Levels are close to those reached in the 1995/96 season, the lowest recorded since the 128-meter (420 feet) high dam was completed in 1959.

While inflows from the Zambezi river were lower than the long-term mean in the past rainy season, the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe have both built extra hydropower turbines at Kariba in the past decade, which release more water downstream.

Normally, water levels start rising in January.

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“Appropriate measures to prevent a complete depletion of the scarce water in the Kariba reservoir have been taken with the power utilities,” the Zambezi River Authority, which manages the dam on behalf of Zambia and Zimbabwe, said in an emailed response to questions.

“Considering the rainfall forecast for the forthcoming season of normal-to-above normal, the authority has optimized the water allocation for 2023.”

Kariba has a generation capacity of 2,130 megawatts split between Zambia and Zimbabwe, which are separated by the Zambezi. The low levels could exacerbate a power shortage in Zimbabwe, which is currently generating 750 megawatts at the dam, until a coal-power plant at Hwange adds 300 megawatts — due next month.

Zambia has reduced its dependence on Kariba through the commissioning of the 750-megawatt Kafue Gorge Lower hydropower dam.

Zesco Ltd., Zambia’s state-owned power utility, didn’t immediately respond to emailed questions.