ZESCO said on Wednesday it had begun rationing electricity to cope with a shortage prompted by rising demand from the mining sector, the economic lifeblood of Zambia.
The state owned utility said it had started rationing electricity to domestic and other commercial users to ensure adequate power supply to the mining sector, which includes copper and cobalt operations.
“We have a deficit of (up to) 250 megawatts and this has caused the current load-shedding (rationing) due to rising demand of power from the copper mines,” Christopher Nthala, Zesco’s director for generation and transmission, told a news conference.
Spurred by the opening of new copper mines and upgrading of others, demand for power in the sector reached 600 megawatts in 2006, about double what it had been in previous years. “The power demand is driven by the increase in copper production which is due to higher (global metals) prices,” Nthala added.
The problem has worsened during the winter months, when demand traditionally peaks. Most residential areas in Lusaka and other major cities have been experiencing daily power cuts that last between three and five hours.
Obsolete equipment and a lack of new investment in power generation since Zambia’s independence from Britain in 1964 are among the factors hampering Zesco’s efforts to meet its full power capacity of 1,670 mw, according to officials.
It has been meeting the shortfall by importing power from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo as well as South Africa, but the DRC has stopped its exports to Zambia after vandals destroyed transmission lines.
Zambia has agreed with India’s Tata Group to accelerate construction of the 120 mw Intezhi-Tezhi power station at a cost of $150 million to help it generate more, said Musonda Chibulu, Zesco’s director of power rehabilitation and generation projects.
Extensions to the Kariba North Bank power station also are being fast-tracked to increase capacity in partnership with China’s Sinohydro at a cost of $320 million, with 85 percent of the funds to be provided by China’s Exim Bank, Chibulu added.
“Another new project is the Kafue Gorge Lower, which will have a capacity of 750 megawatts and will cost $750 million. We are now sourcing capital for the projects to accelerate its implementation,” Chibulu said.
The World Bank, the European Investment Bank, the Development Bank of South Africa and the Norwegian funding arm Norad have agreed to provide $210 million in funding to help with the upgrades, he added.
Zambia, however, is not alone in facing a worsening energy crunch. Industry experts have projected a major power deficit across southern Africa starting in 2008 due to rising industrial development and lack of fresh investments in power generation