World’s Biggest Dam Needs Rain to Send Power to Zambia Mines – by Matthew Hill (Bloomberg News – August 14, 2015)

Energy-use curbs by Zambia will keep its largest electricity plant at the world’s biggest dam, Lake Kariba, going until November, when seasonal rains may begin replenishing water levels at the hydropower station.

“If we don’t do anything right now, by October we’ll have nothing,” Jackson Sikamo, president at the Chamber of Mines, which represents mining companies in Africa’s second-biggest copper producer, said by phone Thursday. “If we do something right now, we’ll be able to run up to November and then the rains will come and we’ll be able to continue to operate at reduced levels.”

The Kariba North Bank generation facility has capacity to provide as much as 1,080 megawatts, nearly half of Zambia’s normal power production. Water levels at the reservoir had dropped to 40 percent by July 19, according to the Zambezi River Authority, half of where they were 12 months earlier. Neighboring Zimbabwe also relies on the dam for electricity.

Zambia in June started cutting power to customers other than mines by as much as 10 hours a day because of reduced generation at Kariba and the Kafue Gorge plants. Copper producers agreed Aug. 11 to cut their power use by 30 percent to avert exhausting water levels at the Kariba generators and forcing them to be switched off in the first week of October, Sikamo said.

El Nino

Zambia usually gets its first rains in November and water levels at Kariba, fed by the Zambezi river, start rising from March, according to the river authority’s website. This could be threatened by El Nino, a weather system building in the Pacific Ocean since March that affects rainfall in southern Africa.

There is a “significant chance” El Nino could in 2015 reach the strongest levels in 35 years, according to the World Food Programme.

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