Low Water Levels Force Tanzania To Switch Off Hydropower Plants

Via Future Directions International, a report on how Tanzania – faced with increased pressure on water sources and climatic variability – is beginning to turn to gas-fuelled electricity plants:


Low water levels have forced Tanzania to turn off all its hydropower plants. Even prior to the shutdown many residents and businesses complained about a shortage of electricity supply, with many consistently experiencing several blackouts per month. While hydropower plants typically provide Tanzania with 35 per cent of its electricity requirements, at the time they were shut down this share had declined to below 20 per cent. The Minister for Energy and Minerals, George Simbachawene, has stated that since independence, in 1961, the East African country has never faced a water crisis as dire as the one it is currently experiencing.


Demand for electricity in Tanzania is roughly 870MW and the country has a total capacity of 1583MW. At full capacity, hydroelectric plants can produce over 550MW of electricity but reduced water levels in key reservoirs have reduced this to 105MW.

Water from the Great Ruaha River is used for irrigation and electricity production. Up to 70 per cent of the hydropower industry depends upon water from this river. With increased irrigation, however, it is no longer provided with a secure supply and water shortages are now more common. In the past, it was not uncommon for the river to be dry for up to three weeks at the height of the dry season, but in recent years this has increased to up to three months.

A doubling of the population living in the river basin, from three to six million since 1999, is said to be the primary cause of increased pressure on the river. Many of the new inhabitants are intensive graziers who use vast amounts of water. Inefficient irrigation practices place further pressure upon the dwindling supply. Currently less than 600,000 hectares, out of a potential 29.4 million, are under irrigation, with the government keen to expand this further. The National Irrigation Act 2013 aims to provide the agricultural industry with a more secure source of water as rain-fed agriculture is likely to come under increased pressure from increased climatic variability. The potential remains for further pressure to be placed upon the country’s water supply, further weakening the utility of hydropower plants.

In June 2015, the government declared that the water supplies that feed the major Mtera and Kidatu hydropower plants are protected sites. This means that economic activities – including irrigation-fed farming – are banned from taking place near the reservoir or other protected water sources.

Farmers complain that they are being unfairly targeted and claim that food security will be threatened as a result. They argue that climate change is mainly responsible for the decrease in water availability and that the government should be doing more to harvest rainwater. Agriculture is a major component of the Tanzanian economy and limiting the ability of farmers to use water for irrigation will have considerable economic ramifications.

Faced with a more erratic water supply and a heavy reliance upon hydropower generation, Tanzania has begun searching for alternative sources of electricity generation. Estimates suggest that it has 55 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas off its south coast that could increasingly be tapped into for the domestic market. To address the electricity shortfall, three new gas power plants were turned on in the country’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, in September. A further four gas-powered electricity plants, with a total output of 335MW, are expected to be brought online by 20 October.

The electricity shortage is expected to be over by the end of October, as rain begins to fill river catchment areas. The East African region is currently affected by the El Niño weather phenomenon and is projected to experience wetter than average conditions between October and December 2015.

Such conditions, should they eventuate, will likely prove beneficial for the country’s hydroelectricity sector in the short-term. Longer-term, however, Tanzania would benefit from the diversification of its electricity production as there are currently tensions between its energy and agriculture sectors for water use that can be resolved by diversifying the electricity sector.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 at 11:39 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”