Africa’s Biggest Hydropower Plant Running Out Of Water

The long drought in Southern Africa is drying up the water in Africa’s biggest hydropower plant, threatening the electricity generation at the Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique.

Currently, the water levels at the reservoir are at a dangerous low with the National water Directorate pegging the level of water in the Cahora Bassa at the end of November at only 34%.

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The head of the plant, Pedro Couto, had been addressing staff at a November meeting when he told them that “a lack of rain over the last two years” had “resulted in an unprecedented reduction in the Cahora Bassa reservoir.”

Water levels at the dam are only 17 meters (55 feet) above the minimum operating level according to data from the dam’s operator, Hidroelectrica de Cahora Bassa (HCB). If higher rainfall is not delivered by the rainy season next year, the situation is bound to worsen.

The low water levels currently are the resultant effect of a drought that has been designated as the worst drought to hit southern Africa in four decades. Water flow was reduced to the Zambezi river system where three major hydro dams, including the Cahora Bassa, supply electricity to the region.

Cahora Bassa

Hydropower still accounts for 21% of electricity in the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), a common electricity market for 12 countries. This latest drought are a sign that southern Africa, with its decided vulnerability to climate change, must seek out more reliable means of generating electricity.

Analysts say that the low rainfall since 2014 has put a strain on SAPP and led to blackouts and electricity shortages that raise the risk of social instability.

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Cahora Bassa, which has a capacity of 2,075 megawatts, sells most of its electricity to South Africa, as well as to Zimbabwe, and Mozambique’s national utility, EDM. The dam’s operator HCB has already cut supplies to South Africa’s power utility Eskom by 13%.

The Kariba dam, a reservoir upstream from Cahora Bassa, that supplies almost all of the electricity in Zambia and Zimbabwe, fell to 12% capacity this summer.