/NOW: why power cuts are a cause for concern in mining

NOW: why power cuts are a cause for concern in mining

Editorial by Thembelani Moyo

3 Minute read

The electricity power cuts rolled out by the power utility, ZESA, have become a nightmare for businesses in Zimbabwe. Mining companies have been forced to reduce production hours because of inconsistent power supply. As a result, gold production output is on the decline. Energy experts attribute Zimbabwe’s failure to generate adequate electricity to old equipment at Hwange Power Station. Hydropower generation at Kariba Dam has also been affected because of low water levels. Zi-Mining thinks it’s time for mining companies in Zimbabwe to embrace using alternate sources of power. This, in turn, will compensate for the lost production time owing to load shedding.

Reduced production hours

Reduced production hours in the mining sector is bad news for a country that depends on mining to drive its economy. According to the Chamber of Mines, mining contributes 15% to the country’s GDP. It also accounts for 65% of Zimbabwe’s exports and 50% of foreign direct investments. More than 45, 000 people are formally employed in the mining industry. If miners operate at reduced capacity, the economy will collapse owing to low mineral exports. In the long run, companies will be forced to retrench staff as they will not be able to pay them.

Rio Zim has already felt the effects of electricity power cuts and has had its gold output take a knock. Compared with 2018, the Chairperson of Rio Zim, Saleem Beebeejaun, says gold output in 2019 declined by 8%. Last year, Rio Zim produced 1,050 kilograms, and 962 kilograms has been produced in 2019. This is a worrisome trend for the government, miners and employees.

Hwange Power Station

Hwange Power Station was designed in the 1960’s, and the problems it is facing at the moment are due to old equipment. The thermal power station has an installed capacity of 920MW, but, at the moment produces far less than that. Hwange Power Station provides a significant 40% of the country’s power needs. If the station remains in bad shape, blackouts will persist.

Karina Dam

Karina Dam is essential for Zimbabwe’s power needs. Drought, however, has reduced the dam’s capacity to produce enough power. Climate change, indeed, takes away dependency on hydropower. Very soon, hydropower is going to be less effective. The situation has affected Zambia as the country also relies on the Kariba Dam for power. Zambia’s state-owned power utility has begun cutting output and rolling out blackouts affecting more than 17 million people.

Alternate energy

It is encouraging that some companies are shifting to alternate sources of energy to keep their mines running. Rio Zim is set to construct three solar power plants with a capacity to generate 178MW. This is a right move to ensure production continues and to keep the economy moving.

Venice Mine has also engaged a private company that will help with the installation of a 0.5MW solar power plant. This will cater for 25% of the mine’s power needs.

Even small-scale mines such as Summerton 18 Gold Mine have now use alternate sources of power to run their businesses.

What now?

A reliable power supply is important if the government is to transform the mining industry. The government wants a US$12 billion mining industry by 2023. Miners need to wake up and smell the coffee. Businesses must evolve now. Electricity supplied by the power utility unreliable. Complaining about the situation will not save the day. Proactive action is desired. Solar and other sources of energy are the future for businesses.

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