Mozambique power utility begins the long process of recovery following cyclones

15th May 2019 By: Kim Cloete - Creamer Media Correspondent

Mozambique’s energy sector is trying to get back on track following the devastation wreaked on its power system by Cyclone Idai in March and cyclone Kenneth in April.  

Electricity Company of Mozambique chairperson and CEO Aly Impija told delegates attending the African Utility Week, in Cape Town, on Wednesday, that the cyclones wiped out 103 km of transmission lines and caused the loss of 45 MW of generation from its Mavuzi and Chicamba hydropower plants.

The national utility lost much-needed revenue from both internal and export markets.

“We are taking several measures to improve the infrastructure. We are also looking into implementing certain changes because the infrastructure simply cannot survive cyclones of that magnitude,” said Impija.

Tropical cyclone Idai made landfall off the coast of Mozambique on March 15, with wind speeds of 165 km/h and a 4.4 m storm surge. It devastated Beira and surrounding areas.

Impija said the impact on the utility's business had been severe. Apart from damage to the hydropower plants, as well as substations, all commercial branches, which serve around 300 000 customers, need to be rehabilitated due to the damage.

The utility said that, as a result, the number of new connections for 2019 in Beira would have to be reduced by at least half, affecting about 30 000 new customers.   

Four mini-hydropower plants in Mozambique were damaged by the cyclones, mainly from flooding, while rehabilitation works are required for waterways, access roads, generation equipment and erosion protection. Some damage was also inflicted on solar plants.

“Because these generation facilities are serving off-grid communities, the social impact to the communities is severe and cannot be mitigated with alternative supply options,” the utility said.

Heavy winds also led to damage to the utility’s fuel distribution assets, such as fuel storage tanks, filling stations and buildings, lubrication storage facilities and a laboratory.

The utility launched an emergency action plan to support those in affected areas following the cyclones. Technical teams were dispatched to support operational teams. Impija said they were planning to replace wooden poles with concrete poles, amid a range of measures.

“Beyond the engineering work that needs to be done, we have to diversify the sources of energy, not only in the area that was affected, but the whole country.

“We have to involve the private sector in power generation. That’s the only way we can achieve the necessary capacity to deal with our challenges,” Impija said.

Meanwhile, World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa Policy and Futures Unit head Salim Fakir said the cyclones had brought to light two profound issues – how poor countries in Africa are most vulnerable to weather events, and the "ability to kick back".

He said wealthier countries with deeper pockets could kick back far faster.

“We can see clearly from Idai and Kenneth, the wide impacts on the region. Power cuts caused by Cahora Bassa also caused utter devastation in the northeast of Zimbabwe. The port of Beira was cut off for several weeks, so exports couldn’t happen . . . ”