Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Morupule B breakdown sends electricity imports soaring

BY BONNIE MODIAKGOTLA

Latest data from Statistics Botswana shows that domestic electricity generation has declined in the third quarter of the year, as Morupule continues to operate below capacity.

The index of Electricity Generation, a key indicator of electricity generation, stood at 184.3 in the third quarter of the year, reflecting 13.3 percent from 2017’s third quarter. This was after the country could only manage to generate 774.8 MWH during the period under review. The decline was more nuanced in comparison to this year’s second, showing a decline of 5.5 percent.

The decreases have been attributed to operational challenges encountered at the Morupule B Power Station, with only two of the four units working. None of the emergency power plants were used during the quarter under review.

In the third quarter of the year, a total of 1 million MWH of electricity was distributed. With locally generated electricity responsible for 77.2 percent of total distribution, leaving the shortage to be met through importation. The volume of imported electricity rose substantially by 84. 1 percent in the quarter under review compared to 2017’s similar quarter.

Compared to 2018 second quarter, imported electricity was up 33 percent. Through Botswana Power Corporation (BPC), the state run power utility company imported 28.7 percent or 229.4 MWH of total electricity distributed during the period under review. Most of the imported electricity was sourced from Southern African Power pool (82.4 percent), cross border markets supplied 9.5 percent, while South Africa’s Eskom (5.2 percent) and Namibia Power Corporation (2.9 percent).

Last year the power utility firm revealed that it is constantly upgrading its power generation plants to ensure they operate efficiently and sustainably. BPC’s two main power stations, the 132MW Morupule A and the 600 MW Morupule B have been undergoing remedial works. The multi-billion pula Morupule B power plant has been fraught with problems since it was commissioned and yet to operate at full capacity. However, BPC says it has stabilized the plant to operate with 70 percent reliability.

However, this year it announced that the country faces increased threats of power cuts due to combinations of several factors which include malfunctioning plants, and difficulty in sourcing power imports. The warning bells were sounded last month when BPC and its parent ministry revealed that the country’s power plants, Morupule A and Morupule B are not meeting the average national demand of 400MW, and could get worse at peak demand of 500 MW.

Dr. Stefan Schwarzfischer, BPC CEO, in November said the two units at Morupule B power station are producing 260 MW, while the other two units are not in operation, both undergoing maintenance. He revealed that until all the units are up and running, the country will meet its power deficits through power imports from South Africa’s Eskom and the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP).

Around 29 percent of Botswana’s current power demand is covered by domestic coal generation, which comes from Morupule B ÔÇô which on full capacity is supposed to produce 600MW ÔÇô while the remaining 71 percent comprises of power imports from South Africa.

However, this could present a potential problem for the country, leading to potential frequent blackouts as South Africa faces its own problems. The country’s power utility, Eskom, is buckling under debts ÔÇô making it difficult to refurbish its aging plants, and has warned that it expects energy availability of the system will keep declining into early next year and probably only recover to current levels in six months.

Botswana and South Africa will be looking to Mozambique to meet the deficit ÔÇô although that might not be enough to stop the envisaged power cuts unless situation improves. Eskom imports power from Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa hydropower plant, which is also part of SAPP. With Eskom under pressure to import power to meet demands, it means Botswana will be on a back foot ÔÇô both in terms of imports from Eskom or Mozambique.

Meanwhile, BPC has issued tender seeking twelve Independent Power Producers (IPP) to provide mire electricity connections in the country. The tender relates to the development, financing, construction, operation and maintenance of twelve solar PV power projects.

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