hydroelectric power
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The development of the Batoka power project is expected to meet the country’s current energy demand of 2,200MW

In Zimbabwe, the country has been experiencing an increase in power cuts as a result of low dam levels. This is increasingly becoming a concern for the future of the country’s mega dam developments, Inter Press Service reported.

Amongst these dams’ is the planned  $3 billion Batoka Gorge power project which will be located on the Zambezi River. The hydropower project is expected to generate 2,400MW of power, up from the country’s current 1,600MW capacity, meeting the existing demand of 2,200MW.

Are mega dams a viable option?

According to the country’s deputy minister of economic planning and investment promotion, Samuel Undenge, 80% of Zimbabwe does not have access to conventional power.

The Batoka project is expected to reduce this figure by increasing power generation and distribute clean power to those living in marginalised areas.

Undenge told parliament earlier this month that: “Water is still flowing into the Zambezi River from the north, but we are drawing more water than what is flowing in, hence the continued decline in the water level.”

The low water levels are raising concern amongst investors, who are assessing whether mega dams are a viable option for the country.

Peter Bosshard, Interim Executive Director of International Rivers, advised that the Zambezi river basin, has one of the most variable climates in the world, which will increase the dam’s hydrological risks, Inter Press Service reported.

Bosshard said: “The (UN’s) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that the river (Zambezi) may suffer the worst potential climate impact among eleven major African river basins.

“Multiple studies have estimated that streamflow in the Zambezi will decrease by 26 to 40% by 2050.”

He added: “In spite of these serious predictions, the proposed Batoka Gorge Dam has not been evaluated for the risks of climate change.”

In response, Hodson Makurira, a senior hydrologist at the University of Zimbabwe argued: “That would be an oversimplification of a complicated and highly uncertain projection of future events.

“The same climate change predictions are forecasting an increase in extreme events, droughts and floods. You would (then) want to capture as much flood water as possible through increased storage. That would cushion you against periods of low flows.

He added: “Nobody knows the exact magnitude of reduction in flows due to climate change so it may still make economic sense to build dams.”

According to Bosshard, the dam’s feasibility studies date back to 1993, where climate change was not considered.

Bosshard said: “The project is based on historical streamflow data, which do reflect future realities. Investors, financiers and tax payers should be aware that the studies for this multi-billion dollar project seriously over-estimate its economic viability.”