File:2015 Rolling black outs of up to 8hrs in duration continue to plague Zambia

By Frazer Bwalya Musonda

In June of 2015 I stumbled upon a video on YouTube (link attached) of an interview of the then deputy minister of Mines, Energy & Water Development Charles Zulu at the Africa Energy Forum held in Dubai. Aside from his uncoordinated responses, he highlighted the potential that Zambia had energy wise and emphasized that this remained relatively untapped because of lack of funds.

But was that really true considering the huge debt that we have contracted so far?

Zambia has accrued so much debt in the last few years under the PF government, particularly for “infrastructure development”, an undertaking that is evidently riddled with corruption. The recent legal battle that the former minister of infrastructure, Ronald Chitotela faced and eventually got acquitted of based on a technicality shows just a bit of that. Everybody knows he was guilty. Even under strong circumstantial evidence the president could only transfer him to another ministry, but that is another topic all together so I leave it there.

Conventional wisdom holds that borrowed money should be invested into economic activities that simultaneously provide a service and generate revenues to support debt repayment. This “debt-profitable investment” nexus is but a myth under the current PF government. Huge sums of monies have been borrowed minus a well laid down plan for its application beforehand. Its “bamudala bakasaka kandalama” who decides- without regard to economics-which constituency gets to have a road or a hospital and which doesn’t. Documented cases are in the public domain of instances were these borrowed monies have been misapplied during induced by elections to buy votes. And as much as people like to praise late president Sata, he and Hon Chikwanda were the architects of debt contraction that was deficient of well laid down plans for its application.

The PF government has argued that economic development minus good road infrastructure is not possible. Nonetheless, they are yet to furnish the public with information on how exactly investment decisions into road infrastructure are informed. My personal view is that more than 60-70% of the roads that have been done, no cost benefit analyses were conducted. How can one otherwise explain why township roads have been done in almost all PF held constituencies and literately none in opposition strongholds? Mazabuka, a place where I lived for over a year is proof of this line of thought.

My contention with the implementation of the PF road infrastructure program is that most of the township roads that have been done-aside from sidelining important areas in opposition strongholds and being riddled with corruption-have only been done to please voters regardless of economic benefit analyses. A lot of borrowed monies that could have been used to fund capacity expansions in energy infrastructure have unfortunately been misappropriated principally because of incompetent people in the corridors of power.

The shortage of power to fuel economic activity was documented as one of the reasons for the drop in growth of the Zambian economy in 2015. The same has never been said when some township roads never existed. In addition to the slowed economic growth, we spent huge sums of money ($40 million) over 3 months in order to cushion the electricity rationing that resulted from reduced output from hydro power plants. A KWH of electricity was bought at 18 USD cents, heavily subsidized and later sold at 5 cents to Zambian consumers. This huge expenditure would have been avoided had there been careful planning from leaders. Clearly investing into capacity expansion must be a priority area. To think that we are just about to spend a lot more on electricity imports in 2019 when we were supposed to learn from the 2015 experience is testament to the incompetency of the current government.

Contracting external debt of over $10 billion (over 40% of GDP) for “economic diversification” and then counteracting that with lack of investments into sustainable power generation is more than enough reason to get rid of the PF government. The argument that the only option that makes sense to invest into considering the very low electricity prices in Zambia is hydro power, no longer holds once we externalize the effects of climate change when doing investment calculations. Based on data from EIA, the reduced load factor for hydropower in 2015 (0.53) due to reduced water levels and the solar hours of 2800 that Zambia enjoys annually, Solar PV energy becomes cheaper to invest into relative to hydropower by 20%. The levelized cost of generating electricity from solar PVs would stand at 4.4 US cents per KWh in this scenario.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. HH
    Electricity and maize meal prices are as a result of natural causes.

    PF is not in charge of rain in Tonga areas.

    HH has never even attended national prayer sessions.

    HH is the cause of drought because he is not a Christian. It drought which as caused problem with zesco and maize meal.

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    • Ba HH…..easier said than done baba….have you ever ruled a country before???? Pakamwa chabe kusabaila…..its not as simple as you think….ask Trump and Boris….blah blah blah blah blah…when reality sets in its a different story

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    • The problem with HH he thinks he knows it all and he can just use a magic wand…..only God almighty has powers to command let there be light,let there be darkness,let there be water etc….building a double storey house in new Kasama and having a thousand cows in Gwembe, plus pocketing privatization money is not the same as ruling the whole country….Lungu is not my favorite but please stop your hallucinations

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    • @Chapwa…please keep your stupidity to yourself. China. Japan, Singapore, South Korea are not Christian nations but are rich and blessed. Even the places you zambians go for shoping like Dubai are not christian places but rich. Go for your silly national prayers and continue being poor. God cannot be lied to and mocked.

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    • One simply has to be a moron of epic proportion not to recognize that PF govt is responsible for load shedding. This country has enough sun shine to power the continent, how much investment has gone into this sector as strategic planning after 2015 black outs? Nothing, just corruption, theft and drug dealing.

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    • Iwe chikopo, how were the mmd managing to keep the prices of mealimeal down and load shedding to its minimum of 2 hours 17 to 19 hrs peak period and that also only some areas of Lusaka compared to 8 hours in 2012 and the whole country. Just after mmd lost power in 2011 things started going down. Just think why?

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  2. A well written article but I have a few bones to pick. Climate change is real. E.g., in South Africa in 2017, the greater Cape Town area with 3.7 million residents, faced the unprecedented prospect of having to turn off water supplies due to the worst drought in a century. To avoid the crisis, citizens were limited to 50 litres of water per person per day but no South African blamed the government for this calamity as is the case in Zambia. With the emergence of the Chinese solar energy has become cheap. China has more solar energy capacity than any other country in the world, at a gargantuan 130 gigawatts (130,000MW, Zambia installed capacity is 2,500MW). Solar energy, now that it has become cheaper should, therefore, be considered the energy of choice for future energy projects. I have…

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    • Cont’d. We cannot just abandon our hydropower projects because we have invested a lot of money in them but we should use the little water available efficiently by diverting the water from Luapula river to Kafue river (an idea first mooted by Simon Zukas), by increasing the reservoir capacity at Itezhitezhi Dam by increasing the dam height by a metre (this plan is already on ZESCO’s drawing board, and diverting the water from Kafue river after Kafue Lower power station to Kariba Dam. This means that the same water can generate electricity at Itezhitezhi Dam, Kafue Gorge Upper and Kafue Gorge Lower. The possibility of other storage dams upstream of the Itezhitezhi Dam should be explored. The Batoka Gorge Project means that the same water will generate electricity at Batoka Gorge and Kariba…

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  3. The design of a hydropower project is based on RECORDED water flows. The exceptionally low water flows we are experiencing now were not captured in the recorded water flows but as for the design of the Itezhitezhi Dam there were some low water flows. The consultant who was tasked with design of the dam discarded this low water flows which resulted in a dam with a smaller reservoir capacity. He attributed the low water flows to an error in their measurement. However, the consultant who was given to review the design argued that these low water flows were real because they were also observed in Malawi. A compromise was reached that the dam height could be increased by 1m if the situation warrants it. It is obvious that this low water flows are REAL and the reservoir capacity should be…

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  4. Hi Frazer.
    The PF’s government argument that economic development minus good road infrastructure is not possible is a myth. A bad road network will not cripple an economy, but lack of reliable energy will and fast.
    All things considered PF has done extremely poor when it comes to the energy sector, as an example tariffs have been increased by atleast 70% since 2011 but we have seen zero investment in the sector. The problem is that they have focused on a single sector and called it development.

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    • Zero investment since 2011! Since then the PF has completed the 120MW power station at Itezhtezhi Dam, the Kariba North Bank Power Station has been extended by 360MW, a total of 480MW. The 750MW Kafue Gorge is nearing completion and the filling of the reservoir will start in March next year. A total of 750+360+120=1230MW (out of which 480MW is already connected) It is not because of lack of investment but lack of water, the fuel, that is causing load shedding.

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  5. HH

    U have failed to give good money to your workers. U have failed to plan how to convince the nation to vote for u.

    U have failed to bring back the money you have stollen from the people of Zambia.

    U have failed to explain whether u would bring back the money from Panama once u win elections in 2087.

    Mr Panama HH keep quiet. Waliba shalifula. Give chance to your friends also. Tulibenge abalefwaya ukuteka mune

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  6. When PF came to power Zambia was experiencing load shedding same as South Africa.

    In zambia We were told it is a regional thing because of drought.

    While in SA they agreed it was due to underinvestment.

    Now some 6 to 7 years later SA has no power cuts to sing about , while in Zambia with PF same old , same old song of drought……

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