By Kennedy Mupeseni-
HEAVY investment in power generations the government has been committing in the last decade will soon change the country’s economic trajectory if investors reciprocate by investing in key economic sectors.
On the other hand, Zambia’s centrality and its Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) will definitely make it possible to export its excess power thus earning the country more foreign exchange.
In a policy analysis statement, the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) encourages the country to use its expanded power generation capacity and SAPP membership to enhance its power exports.
PMRC executive director Bernadette Zulu says the continued investments in the energy sector are an ingredient for industrialisation.
Zambia could also build the capacity to sell into the SAPP, thereby generating foreign exchange for the country through power exports.
“As as a member of SAPP, it is timely that the country continues to invest in electricity production through the extensive power generation pipeline earmarked for development and opportunities being realised in developing alternative energy supply,” Ms Zulu says.
Huge infrastructure investments such as the Kafue Gorge Lower (KGL) power plant have created an industrial base around the plant that exploits the energy being produced.
“The completion and commissioning of the KGL has a multiplier effect on job creation, the country’s industrialisation agenda and improved human development,” says Ms Zulu.
She adds that the government’s commitment to increased generation capacity of electricity reached its peak with the commissioning of the first unit of the KGL hydro- electric power station by President Edgar Lungu on July 23, this year.
Ms Zulu also observes that the government embarked on other non-renewable energy projects during the same period through the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) which will increase the country’s power generation capacity.
“Otherrenewables include; the construction of the Chunga Solar Power Plant, located in the Kafue National Park and construction and upgrading of mini-Hydro’s in North-Western and Northern provinces,” she says.
Ms Zulu says such projects have been instrumental in increased installed capacity in the country.
Mini-hydro projects such as the Kasanjika mini-hydro in Mwinilunga of North-Western Province generates about 0.64 megawatts and provides power to approximately 12,000 households in the district.
The switching on of the 750 MW will contribute to the attainment of 3,350 MW, thus placing the country on a better footing in terms of electricity supply sufficiency.
Considered the third biggest hydropower station in the country on its completion, KGL is Zambia’s first major investment being funded through a public-private partnership (PPP) model.
Government appointed Zesco for the development of the project.
According to a project scope, the project includes the construction of a 139m-high concrete-face rockfill dam (CFRD) with a crest width between 8m and 10m and a length of approximately 378 meter.
A surface powerhouse with a width of 44.5m, a height of 58m and a length of 127m, and housing five 150MW generator units will be constructed.
Zambia currently has an installed capacity of 2,800MW with 2,380MW being from hydropower.
Just 31 per cent of the country’s population has access to electricity, while only about four per cent of the rural areas are electrified.
Power demand has steadily been rising at a rate of three per cent annually with 7.2 million households currently without access to power.
President Lungu said during the commissioning of 150 that the growth in power demand has necessitated accelerated investment in power generation and transmission infrastructure.
“The economic gains that will accrue from the investments will no doubt benefit our country and outlive not just our current hurdles but benefit all of us who are present here,” he says.
Zesco managing director, Victor Mundende is confident the project will go a long way towards making the power utility company a hub for the sub region.
He says with the good rainfall coupled with the investment in the energy sector, Zesco is now able to generate power at full capacity, ending load shedding in the process.
Over 4,000 local people have been employed as a result of the KGL power generation project.
The project started in 2016 but encountered challenges in completion owing to the COVID-19 pandemic among other factors.
“Our journey started in 2016, despite the challenges we had along the way, we never lost hope or gave up,” he says.
Chinese Ambassador to Zambia Li Jie is also upbeat that once fully completed, the KGL power station will become a key energy producer.
Mr Li describes the commissioning of the 150 MW power generation unit as a great step forward towards completion of the whole power station.
This critical infrastructure will further improve bilateral ties between the two countries.
Sinohydro Corporation representative Liu Kai adds that the project will improve the living standards of Zambians.
Meanwhile, energy expert Johnston Chikwanda is looking at the development of the exporting earning angle.
Mr Chikwanda says the KGL hydro power station creates an opportunity for Zambia to export electricity to neighbouring countries in the region.
He says the project has made the country more than self-sustainable with power.
“Kafue gorge lower brings on aboard 750 MW of power and the recent commissioning of the first unit of 150MW, exemplifies a significant entry of the country into the electricity export market to earn foreign exchange and especially that most countries in the region are faced with a power deficit,” Mr Chikwanda states.
The Energy Forum Zambia chairperson says actualising the project which was one of the interventions to rescue the country from the power deficit of 2015/2016.
“I also wish to commend Zesco board, management and staff for working hard to realise the project and also save the nation from load shedding,” he says.
And former Commerce, Trade and Industry Minister, Christopher Yaluma observes that the unprecedented investments in the energy sector have set a good stage for the country’s industrialisation.
He says the upgrading of Kariba North Bank, the newly commissioned KGL; Maamba Coal fired power plant and solar mini-grids have designated the country as a hub of electricity in the region.
Having participated in the energy sector for over 40 years, Mr Yaluma says he understands the importance of electricity and the overall energy sector to any economy.
“The massive investments in power generation are yielding fruits and manufacturers should take advantage of a stable power supply in the country to increase production of essential commodities thus reducing the cost of living,” he says.
Mr Yaluma says the commissioning of a part of 750 MW at KGL is a game changer.
“The only way the country will come out from the spiral increase in essential commodity prices is to increase production of essentials, the Government has done its part to improve power infrastructure which was a hindrance, it is now up to manufacturers to increase production,” he adds.
It is hoped that local and foreign investors will take advantage of the expanded power infrastructure and invest heavily in key sectors of the economy going forward.