BPC ushers in “Black Christmas” for Botswana households, businesses...

09 Dec 2018

BY PORTIA NKANI

Just as recent as November 2018, Botswana households got a “treat” from retailers known as “Black Friday” – a popular discounted shopping spree where some shops decide to sell their products at a “normal-normal” price to consumers.

Well the unfortunate news is that during the upcoming Christmas holidays, the blackout specialist - the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) is now in the driver’s seat and is likely to turn the country black through load shedding.

Already the energy minister – Eric Molale has confirmed the imminent power cuts linking it to the supply challenges that the state owned power utility is facing.

BPC has also issued a load shedding time schedule raising suspicions that that households and business are likely to get a “Black Christmas”.

Available figures show that with about 70 percent of the country’s population having access to electricity; on average, BPC has been able to meet 79 per cent of the electricity demand from the Morupule B Power Station. Molale this week revealed that in November 2018, the power supply capacity was reduced from 79 to 38 per cent. This is said to be the lowest in two years, owing to the forced outage of three units at the Morupule B Power Station.

When taking over from the former CEO Jacob Raleru over a year ago, the new chief executive Dr Stefan Schwarzfischer promised there would be no more load shedding as Morupule B plants were all up and running except for one.

According to the Minister, the maximum power demand recorded during the peak of winter season in the current year (2018) was 570 megawatts (MW).

The total installed capacity is 892 megawatts, comprising generation from the Morupule A and B Power Stations, as well as 160 megawatts of emergency diesel-powered plants.

However, during the ongoing refurbishment of the Morupule A Power Station and owing to one unit at Morupule B Power Station being on a long-term forced outage, the available installed capacity is reduced to 610 megawatts.

“We have since brought one unit back into production, which makes just under 300 megawatts. We expect another unit; the third unit to be coming on stream on the 15th of December, which should give us an additional 150 megawatts. Therefore, we should be able to meet our demands over and above the picking plants that are available, as well as the firmed up import from South Africa and Mozambique which comprises 70 megawatts,” he further said.

It turned out that, the initial plan for Botswana was that it would export power but not through BPC,  but through an invitation of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to come and set up here and then export to South Africa.

However, when that was about to commence, South Africa changed their integrated resource plan and indicated that they would not need any imported power, they would be self-sufficient. The IPPs as businessmen had to then change and give up on that because Botswana did not need IPP for its own supply locally.

At the moment, BPC does not have a bilateral agreement to export power to other countries. However, as an operating member of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), BPC is able to trade on the SAPP Day Ahead Market (DAM). He further explained that, “trading often happens during off-peak hours, and when atleast three units are in operation at Morupule B Power Station. On average, BPC is able to achieve a selling price of USD0.03/kWh during such spot off-peak trading.”

Molale revealed that his Ministry is in the process of formulating an Integrated Resource Plan. It is this plan which will inform the decisions on the development of the overall power requirements in the medium to long term, not only in terms of when to build new generation capacity and to what scale, but also what technology, for instance, coal, solar, amongst many others to employ.

The Day Ahead Market of the Southern African Power Pool provides an opportunity for exporting electricity to the Southern African region. However, as it is a spot market, prices and the availability of off-takers are often not certain.

Botswana is currently importing because the two picking plants are very costly to operate; they are only brought in when it is in a dire situation. For the moment, it is cheaper to import at 60 thebe per kilowatt hour than to have those generating at about P3.00 per kilowatt hour. As much as with the inclusion of these picking plants into the overall equation of the overall demand, they are only used when it is absolutely necessary, hence this seeming kind of imbalance in what is being produce visá- vis what is being import.

Cabinet once in November 2016 reached an agreement to sell the troubled Morupule B power station as an option to ensure security of supply and making the corporation financially viable again, but this decision has since been reversed. The power plant which was handed over to government in 2014, by Chinese contractor China National Electric Equipment Corporation (CNEEC) has historically been plagued by technical faults leading to power cuts and rolling blackouts across the country. It has never been stable for the longest time.

As for the Corporation, it is currently undergoing a restructuring exercise to transform the cash strapped power production company into a leading power distributor. This transformation strategy, dubbed Masa 2020 is expected to result in job losses.