Local entrepreneurs count mounting losses as power cut become frequent
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania
Tanzania is experiencing power cuts as drought spells have hit hydropower facilities.
The state-run electricity supply company, TANESCO, announced last week that 14 regions connected to the national grid experienced blackouts because of “a defect” at one of its hydropower facilities on the country’s great Ruaha River.
Although TANESCO spokesperson Elihuruma Ngowi confirmed the defect has been rectified and the electricity supply was restored, technicians at the main reservoir warn the worse is probably yet to come.
In an interview with the Anadolu Agency, the Mtera hydropower station manager Elias Mwalupilo said both maximum and minimum water level trends in the reservoir system are rapidly dropping due to drought.
“The situation is always like this during the dry season. We hope the short rain season will slightly improve the situation,” he said.
According to Mwalupilo, the current water level at the dam is 712 meters above sea level, whereas the minimum water level is 690meters (above sea level), he said.
The Mtera-Kidatu reservoir system, which has an installed capacity to produce 280MW, is currently producing 124MW, Mwalupilo said.
He urged Tanzania’s authorities to erect small dams on the upper side of the dam to harvest rainwater during the rainy season as a reserve to be used in the dry season.
The Mtera dam has repeatedly experienced fluctuations in water level, consequently causing problems with electricity distribution to consumers.
From traders in the bustling Sinza suburb in the port city of Dar es Salam to hairdressers in the Mwenge suburb to entrepreneurs at the Kariakoo market, local electricity consumers who spoke to the Turkish news agency said they have been incurring huge losses due to frequent yet unexplained power interruptions.
“We don’t have a stable electricity supply in this area. I don’t want to use a generator either because running it is too costly,” said Sikitu Andrew, a female entrepreneur who runs a hairdressing salon.
Andrew, who was making up to Tanzanian shillings 450,000(US$196) every week, is currently earning $80.
“I have lost most of my customers. It is not easy to run this business without electricity,” she told the Anadolu Agency.
Hydropower facilities produce 561MW, or 36% of total electricity needs in Tanzania, as compared to 63% produced from gas and oil sources, government data show.
Although Tanzania’s power generation has in the last decade largely moved toward gas-fired plants, electricity consumers are still puzzled as to why a defect in a hydropower facility could plunge as many as 14 regions into darkness.
The East African country has 155 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which observers say is more than enough to put the country on the path to economic prosperity, let alone create energy independence.
Although the government is struggling to use fossil fuels to bridge energy deficits, TANESCO is unable to adequately use gas resources to meet growing electricity needs, said Meena.
Despite facing a direct threat from climate change, Tanzania plans to rely on cheaper hydropower to meet future energy needs, said officials.
As a “silver bullet” to the country’s power woes, the government is currently building a $2 billion hydropower facility on the southern Rufiji River to produce 2115 MW, said, officials.
Although Tanzania has many renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal, analysts said the government has failed to tap the potential as an alternative to hydropower.
“The best way to cope with frequent power caused by drought that is affecting hydropower generation is to diversify power source,” said Joshua Meena, a local energy analyst.
But Permanent Secretary of the Energy Ministry Felchesmi Mramba said the government is exploring multiple options to improve power generation, including wind and solar.
“As it is stated in our energy policy, we have taken into account all sources of electricity generation, and when we have enough financial resources, we will certainly develop them,” he told Anadolu Agency.
The World Bank said about 39.9% of the population in Tanzania have access to electricity, of which only 7% are in rural areas.
The Tanzania Meteorological Authority (TMA) warned last week that dry spells are likely to characterize the coming short rainfall season (vuli) in October.
The head of the agency, Agnes Kijazi, said vuli rains are expected to begin in the last week of September.
“Vuli rains are expected to be below normal to normal, characterized by the late onset, poor distribution and prolonged dry spells,” she said.
As one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, with a population of 59 million, Tanzania has repeatedly suffered from crippling electricity crises, which have largely affected economic activities.
In 2015, the government was forced to switch off all hydroelectric plants following droughts that dried up many of the country’s dams or left them with dangerously low water levels.
Much of sub-Saharan Africa will experience extremely more severe and frequent droughts in the coming decades, according to experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Reliance on hydroelectric power is dangerously high
Despite the vulnerability of hydroelectric power, its use is likely to continue to grow at a rapid pace in sub-Saharan Africa, said Meena.
When William Salekwa opens his business every morning, the fish vendor at Makumbusho market in Dar es Salaam is always wary of counting losses.
“When the power goes off for 12 hours, the fish get rotten,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Salekwa often finds a trail of blood oozing on a tiled floor, a signal that his fish stock has defrosted overnight.
Frequent power cuts have forced Salekwa to reduce the amount of Nile tilapia he orders every week.
Local entrepreneurs suffer losses when refrigerated storage units shut down and their meat, fish and dairy products rot in the heat.
For Salekwa, frequent power cuts have badly affected his business. “I am struggling to feed my family,” he said.