Sunday 21st January 2018

TODAY’S BLOG: The future of Zambian energy – are we ready to switch on the lights?

Zambia is nearly completely dependent on hydropower – 96% of the country’s energy is fueled by the Zambezi river. But climate change has largely affected its capacity, leading to the current situation of daily power cuts. Low water-levels at the main reservoirs for hydroelectric generation have triggered a power deficit of 34% of demanded electricity.  The daily 8-hour power cuts, now regarded as normality, have had severe impacts on the population. Children are unable to study after school, people are unable to fulfil their jobs or maintain their businesses and there has been a serious increase in Zambians being laid off across all sectors.

During the past weeks, Zambians have been thrilled to hear that the load shedding has finally been reduced from 8 to 4 hours per day. And the up and coming opening of the Maamba Collieries coal-fired power plant is set to further reduce the load shedding time, according to Zesco. The brand new coal-fired plant owned by Singaporean company Nava Bharat Projects (65%) together with the Zambian government (35%) is expected to start working in July and is set to add 300MW to Zambia’s current energy grid of 2 259 MW – a 13% increase in energy availability.

Reduced load shedding is finally expected to have a positive impact on the economy as a whole. Long overdue, it seems that Zambia may finally be heading in the right direction to increase productivity. However, we must not forget that over the past 18 months with PF in power, Zambia has experienced the worst energy crisis in the whole of Africa. It is rather miraculous that load shedding finally is changing towards the better, just a couple of weeks before the elections.


Breaking it down, Zambia is still fumbling in the darkness when it comes to providing their inhabitants with electricity. A study led by Hivos, a Dutch independent organization for development and Practical Action, a UK development charity, showed that in rural areas of Zambia, only 3.3% of the population have access to electricity. As a whole, Zambia has a electrification rate of 18.8% !


Zambia has a long way to go before the country is provided with energy. During his time in power, President Lungu has blamed the country’s energy situation of “the shortage of rainfall”. Interestingly though, the energy crisis started to seriously unravel already in the year 2000 – 16 years ago. In fact, there has not been any major addition to the Zambia’s generation capacity in the last 20-30 years, despite an average increase in demand of 3% each year, around 200 MW.


It is embarrassing that the government has failed to address an issue that has been critical for 16 years by – continuously blaming the weather. Why have they failed to address this point up until now, and why have they failed to attract investments into for example solar power as a response to the weather?


Zambia is a resource rich country, where several different energy sources could easily provide the whole nation with the electrcity. We have winds to create wind energy, agricultural land to support bio-fuels and extremely long and intense hours of sunlight to support solar energy generation.


What the government has failed to do is create an action plan of how to diversify the energy supply by ensuring that Zambia’s natural resources are used in the best possible way. In their previous manifesto, the PF promised that they would unbundle the public power utility company ZESCO so as to promote better energy management across Zambia. 18 months later, and the PF so far haven’t managed as much as to touch on the fact that ZESCO completely control the provision, or failure of provision, of Zambian energy supply.


Zambia is crying for SMEs, Independent bodies and Private-Public Partnerships that work together and alongside each other to provide energy to a country with an economy that cannot wait any longer for the chance to flourish and prosper. Much overdue, it is time we vote for a new government who knows how to switch the lights on.


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