No-one here has thought about it lately, but when the nearest harbour in neighbouring Mozambique was being rehabilitated three decades ago with the help of Zimbabwe’s own Beira Corridor Group of consultants, engineers and investors electricity was drawn from ships to keep the projects going and light up parts of the city.
Today, ships moored offshore are providing 25 percent of Lebanon’s power and 10 percent of Iraq’s. Ghana, suffering electricity cuts as bad as Zimbabwe’s, this month fires up the first of two ‘power ships’ set to feed 450 MegaWatts into that country’s national grid.
Zimbabwe might be 300 kilometres from the sea but power ships could supply the Mozambique grid for transmission inland into Mutare.
Ghana’s ships were ordered from Turkish shipbuilder Karpowership, leaders in the field, who have also been talking to Eskom in South Africa to ease power shortages there.
According to the company, it stacks up like this: the ships’ turbines run on crude oil or gas and they work continuously on full payload – unlike diesel generators that need to be shut off from time to time – at a cost of R 1.50 a kilowatt hour compared to Eskom’s current emergency diesel output cost of R 3.74 per kWh.
You don’t have to buy the ships, you rent them. Getting the first ship to Ghana (left:with the Ghana flag) has cost $30 million in sailing it there, putting in ‘marine infrastructure,’ ensuring there is a flow of enough fuel to run it and installing sea-to-shore grid interconnectors.
The fine print in the deal allows the Turkish owners and the Electricity Company of Ghana to work out how the benefits and income from resumed domestic, commercial and industrial electricity supply can cover the costs.
Zimbabwe admits it didn’t anticipate the current blight of daily electricity cuts of 18 hours and more. A problem now: there’s a waiting list and waiting time of two years for a power ship to be sailed to a seaside near you.
Amid all the hype of China President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Harare this week, China promised to lend the local power utility $1.2 billion to get its house in order at last. Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the intricacies of this financing are still on paper and won’t be anywhere near fruition until the latter part of next year.
Major upgrades and construction to improve electricity supplies aren’t expected anytime soon. Maybe there will still be time to catch the boat …