By Johnstone Chikwanda
A few weeks ago, Zesco Senior Manager for Corporate Affairs Dr. John Kunda was hosted on Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) TV1 19:00 hours news to give an update to the nation on the state of electricity supply. Using this media platform, Dr. Kunda eloquently informed the nation that load shedding has finally ended in Zambia.
Demand for energy has been increasing in Zambia every year. Not only has there been increased demand for electricity every year but also for fuel. According to national consumption statistics obtained from the Energy Regulation Board (ERB), annual fuel consumption has doubled over the past 10 years. This can only be attributed to national economic growth. Multiple research findings have axiomatically concluded that demand for energy is directly related to economic growth. Comparatively, national security is also directly related to energy security.
Zambia has for a long time experienced excruciating electricity rationing due to energy poverty. Energy poverty is a state of not having enough energy as and when it is needed any time. The bane of this energy poverty is attributed to inadequate investment in the sector over the past 30 years. As the economy grew, demand for energy concomitantly surged upwards thereby creating a vexatious and elusory demand-supply imbalance.
With the vagaries of climate change taking a toll effect on hydro power captive markets such as Zambia, the lessons harvested from prolonged hours of load shedding which lasted up to 16 hours a day will never be forgotten. Naturally, the electricity generation capacity of a country is built around its national arbitrage. Therefore, being consonantly situated in its endowed massive water bodies, Zambia is heavily dependent on hydro-electricity. To this end, the climate change impact has been axiomatic.
To turn around the status quo, energy sector reforms aimed at creating an attractive investment climate had to be launched. Energy sector reforms are a harbinger for improving energy security. Well crafted and implemented reforms can serve as an effective tool for repainting the canvas of a fledgling energy sector. This is what the Government of the Republic of Zambia has done over the past 10 years.
At the heart of the energy reforms lies a journey to remove costly and unhealthy subsidies, diversification and removing industry imperfections. Trapped in a trilemma, painful and difficult decisions which included electricity tariff upward adjustments by 75% in one year a couple of years ago had to be made and implemented. Currently, Zambia’s energy transition is being informed, guided, directed and mentored by the National Energy Policy of 2019, Electricity Act of 2019 and Energy Regulation Act of 2019.
In view of the foregoing, it is not shocking news that in 2020 Zambia attracted projected investment of $1.7 billion in the energy sector as announced by the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA) last week. Indeed, energy sector reforms are serving as a plank for advancing the development of the sector. Solar power and coal-fired power plant have been commissioned. A plethora of off-grid installations has been concluded.
Not only that, but considerable donor funding from the World Bank, United Kingdom, United States of America, European Union and other bilateral support has been poured in Zambia’s energy nexus. One such support includes the World Bank funded Electricity Supply Access Project (ESAP) which has benefited thousands of households just to mention but a few. The entire off grid topography has changed in Zambia as some investors in off grid household solar installation business have connected hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries in different parts of the country.
Zambia’s energy story can not be told without mentioning vertically integrated power utility Zesco Limited. As a front runner at fostering energy security, it has invested heavily in modernizing and expanding its generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure. Among the main projects concluded is the 750 MW Kafue Gorge Lower (KGL) plant; a game changer in Zambia’s energy fortune basket.
Kafue Gorge Lower is a legacy project which required very strong leadership on the part of those who occupy alpha positions both at national level and Zesco Limited. To this end, I wish to commend Government of Zambia under the watch of the current President Dr. Edgar. C. Lungu for driving this project to where it is today and for ending load shedding. I also wish to commend the Chinese Government for its role in this gigantic piece of energy infrastructure which straddle across the 1,576 km Kafue River.
It would be unfair for me not to commend Zesco management and staff for this power plant which will be commissioned this year according to the National Economic Recovery Plan for Zambia. Am very convinced that Zesco Managing Director; a former engineer at Africa’s biggest power utility company Eskom is a happy man not just for concluding the 750 MW KGL among many projects concluded but also for ensuring that load shedding has ended under his watch.
Ending load shedding is a very big achievement in a continent trapped in energy trilemma with over 600 million Africans with no access to clean energy. It qualifies for recognition and award. Zambia has lost productivity worth billions of United States Dollars over the past decades due to energy poverty. Therefore, gallant women and men who have immensely contributed to defeating load shedding need to be recognized. Not only has this feat been achieved but Government has undoubtedly placed Zambia on the path of becoming a leading net exporter of energy in Sub-Sahara Africa.
The Author is an energy expert and a Fellow of the Engineering Institute of Zambia, a PhD candidate at Johnson University, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA