By Frazer B. Musonda
In a recent news item , Hon. Chishimba Kambwili was quoted as saying “Zesco lacks visionary leadership to navigate climate change”. The NDC leader went on to outline how his party “intends to tackle erratic electricity supply, blackouts and loadshedding in Zambia by using coal for power production”. Many would applaud him arguing that, that’s the kind of politics Zambia ought to be practising where opposition politicians will not only criticize but also offer solutions. He was offcourse very right about ZESCO lacking visionary leadership. Not long ago the Lusaka Province PF acting chairperson Paul Moonga revealed that disgruntled PF cadre Komaki was given a job at ZESCO and a Land cruiser. Just like District Commissioner positions, ZESCO is used by the PF government and was used by previous governments to reward cadres with jobs.
The former information minister’s proposed solution however defeats the purpose of “navigating climate change”. Proposing the building of coal power plants to cushion power outages caused by climate change shows his lack of understanding of global warming and climate change. Coal is one of the dirtiest energy carriers that emit CO2 which causes global warming and subsequently climate change. Policy directions in countries that are committed towards the fight against climate change have been inclined towards a drastic shift from coal powered plants to renewables. With plenty of sunshine in Zambia, the NDC’s energy policy should instead focus on solar photovoltaics (PVs).
Solar PVs outperform coal power plants both from environmental and economic perspectives. The levelized cost of electricty from coal power plants ranges between $0.09-0.11/kWh. Solar PVs on the other hand have a levelized cost of electricity ranging between $0.04- 0.07/kWh. With the current prices for electricity in Zambia, both solar PVs and coal fired power plants would run at a loss. That is where government subsidies which are a drain on the treasury come in. The PF government is scared of becoming unpopular by increasing electricity tariffs to cost reflective levels. Low tariffs on the other hand hamper investments into generation capacities because no investor would want to have zero or minimal returns on their investment. The levelized cost of electricity from hydro power plants is the lowest. That explains why whenever they intend to invest into new generation capacity, government invests into hydro power plants. But when the reduction in the capacity factors for hydro power plants as a result of reduced rainfall in Zambia is factored into the calculations for levelized cost of electricity, solar PVs could actually even be competitive.
Perhaps Hon Kambwili should have pointed out that the tax payer’s money that the PF misuse for things such as the 42 Fire engines, the recently acquired presidential jet, PF cadres on government entourages abroad, corruption in the awarding of road contracts e.t.c. could instead have been channeled towards the establishment of solar power plants. That to me would have been one of the prudent ways the PF could have invested unlike some of the unnecessary road projects they have done to get kick backs.