THE private sector must heed President Michael Sata’s call to join hands with the Government in its efforts to improve the electricity generating capacity if the country’s ongoing economic growth level is to be sustained.
Currently, Zesco on its own has not been able to supply enough electricity to meet the growing domestic and industrial demand in the country.
In fact, one survey conducted not too long ago shows that Zambia’s major power generator (Zesco) supplies just less than 50 per of urban residents while in the rural areas, people with access to electricity account for a paltry three per cent.
Considering the fact that more and more consumers, both domestic and industrial, have been coming and will continue to come on board, these figures seem to have even been falling as Zesco has proved incapable of meeting the ever-increasing demand.
The problem of inadequate power supply continues to manifest in the never-ending load-shedding, which actually has been getting from bad to worse in some areas despite occasional assurances by Zesco of its reduction.
Yet electricity is an essential aspect of development which not a single economic sector striving to grow, cannot do without. For instance, construction and industrial production rely heavily on electricity.
The same is true for agricultural production, various businesses that do not involve travelling as well as mining, which remains Zambia’s economic backbone. Electricity is, therefore, the prime mover of the country’s economy.
With the abundant water resource the country is blessed with, hydropower, if harnessed to the maximum, has the potential to deliver four times the current installed capacity in Zambia, according to observers.
On its part, the Government has through Zesco been on the ground, undertaking various projects, including the existing Kariba Dam facility.
As the President says, this is part of the major plans that are already in the pipeline, together with the Kafue Gorge Lower development, all of which need an input from the private sector to increase Zesco’s power generation capacity.
And plaudit should go to such all-weather friends as the People’s Republic of China which has shown increasingly close engagement in Zambia’s economic development through the provision of massive loans for energy projects.
But even with China’s notable massive infusion of funding into the power sector, Zambians should not shy away from concerns that any new power supplies may equally be swallowed up by demand from the expanding mining sector, in which again China is just one of the foreign countries that are heavily involved.
Since the year 2011, budgets have included an allocation for rural electrification amounting to more than one per cent of total Government spending.
The target is understandably to increase rural electricity coverage to 15 per cent by 2015, less than one year from today, and this has to be achieved largely with mini-hydro projects.
It is pleasing to note from the President’s posting that Zesco is already managing 81 such projects, which are at various stages that include feasibility studies, financing, appraisal and implementation.
As the President says, these projects are intended to improve the performance of the value chain and, in the process, boost electricity supply, reduce, if not end, load-shedding and improve rural access to electricity.
With increased power generation and distribution across the country, there is likely to be more wealth creation and improvement of people’s livelihood.
This is what all the people of Zambia have been looking forward to and this may be possible if only the private sector joined hands with the Government to try and complete the ongoing power generation projects and help start new ones.