On September 18, 2015, eight months after his election as Head of State, President Edgar Lungu made a promise to Zambians that the country “will soon” have a reduction in power shortage, leading to an eventual surplus for exports to neighbouring countries struggling with electricity deficits. “In fact…Zambia shall become a net exporter of energy,” President Lungu said in a speech that contained a catalogue of progressive pronouncements, among them the creation of jobs for the youth and continued massive construction of roads across the country to spur economic growth.
These grand promises were made during the official opening of the Fifth Session of the Eleventh National Assembly with a well spelt out plan on how such humongous tasks were going to be achieved. But the focus of this article today is the promise on reducing the shortage of electricity in Zambia.
At the time of the promise in 2015, Zambia was facing serious power shortages that could lead to several hours of outages, affecting business (both large and small scale). Salons and barbershops could practically remain closed at the peak of business because of not having electricity; foodstuffs worth thousands of kwacha could go to waste in many households. In fact, President Lungu said he understood how frustrating it was not to have power, and gave an account of how he felt when he experienced load shedding at Heroes Stadium.
It’s over three years since the promise to reduce power shortages was made. What has been achieved so far?
Since the first quarter of last year, Zambia stopped electricity imports – the first time in the country’s history. Lundazi, however, is yet to be added to the national grid as its power is supplied by Malawi. The surplus electricity being generated by Zambia, as promised, is expected to power the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region.
The Road to Self-sufficiency
The Zambian government identified the potential that lay in its vast natural resources for use electricity generation. Biomass, coal and hydro resources are being put to use to generate electricity.
These achievements have also been documented by the African News Agency (ANA) which rightly accredits the turnaround to a strong hydro and solar power generation industry. The investments made in the energy sector have pushed the country self-sufficiency in energy.
“Zambia generates practically all its energy production from its own primary resources. These resources include biomass, coal and hydroelectricity. Flagship plants such as the power station near the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam, in the south-east of the country, are taking centre stage. The US$375 million (R5.2 billion) Itezhi-Tezhi hydroelectric generating station became operational in 2016. With a 120-megawatt capacity, the plant is the fruit of the first public-private partnership project in the Zambian energy sector. Its primary objective has been to produce enough power to end the crippling daily blackouts and meet consumer needs of the country’s 17 million inhabitants according to the African Development Bank (AfDB),” states ANA, noting that the Itezhi-Tezhi power plant has already increased the country’s power generation capacity by 7.5 per cent and supplied an extra 50, 000 people with electricity.
Zesco’s Ups The Game
In fact, Zesco’s head of power transmission Webster Musonda, in 2017 disclosed that Zambia’s power generation capacity had improved to a point where it was meeting its energy requirements, in line with its vision of becoming the hub of electricity trading in the sub-region by 2025.
To attain its vision, Zesco has embarked on a number of expansion programmes such as increased general capacity through opening up of additional power stations as a strategy to positioning itself in the electricity sub-sector in the SADC region. You will note that besides the flagship power stations alluded to earlier, ZESCO Limited has gone into opening up of additional power stations to strategically position ourselves in the electricity energy sub-sector for the region. Many of these power stations are either complete, under construction or currently under feasibility studies.
For example, Kafue Gorge Lower whose capacity is 750 MW is under construction, with $2 billion expected to be spent, while the Batoka Gorge power station, a joint venture between Zambia and Zimbabwe, will generate around 2,000MW.
Lusiwasi Lower Power station has the capacity of 86 MW and the hydro power station on Luapula River will bring on stream 700MW. Having all these projects come on stream will put Zambia in a strong position with regard to electricity generation while excess power can earn the country the needed foreign exchange.
The power utility is also undertaking the upgrade of transmission lines and construction of greenfield Transmission lines “to reinforce internal corridors leading to integration with other regional utilities” of the Southern African Power POOL (SAPP) to the Eastern African Power Pool (EAPP). Other lines under construction include one for the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya (ZTK) Interconnector project; another that will interconnect the Kolwezi in the DRC Congo (Katanga Province) to Solwezi in North-Western Zambia; the Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, commonly referred to as ZIZABONA while more transmission lines from Zambia into Malawi and Mozambique (respectively), are at “advanced feasibility and expected to complete the picture”.
As demand for electricity increases, Zambia’s current installed capacity of 2,800 MW of generation capacity will become too little to sustain the growth. And national access to electricity currently averages at 31 per cent – only 67 per cent of urban and four per cent of the rural population having access to power.
With the promises made in 2015 by President Lungu and the growth plan laid out by Zesco Limited, it is expected that Zambia will soon begin exporting excess power to neighbouring countries grappling with electricity shortages.