…Infrastructure Already Exists
Zambia’s power distribution infrastructure is amazing if you know the source of the power lines at the Kariba Dam on the border with Zimbabwe and Kafue Gorge or Namalundu as it is fondly known as it snakes through the rest of the country all the way to Chililabombwe and the rest of the country.
I have been privileged to walk across the Kariba Dam wall and also socialise at a club on a hill overlooking Kafue Gorge power station. However, I have not been fortunate enough to enter the power stations themselves maybe for the simple reason that when I was an active reporter in the early 1990s there was no need for power utility company ZESCO to take reporters around because everything operated smoothly with load-shedding unheard of.
But back to the power lines. If you are coming from Siavonga you cross them at a place called Kariba Store a few kilometres to the north of Siavonga centre. As you drive on towards Lusaka, you cross them again on the Chirundu road and from there, they disappear into the countryside until after you cross the Kafue River when you come across a set of power lines coming from Kafue Gorge, these heading towards Mazabuka’s Nakambala Sugar Estates.
Travelling on Great East Road, you come across the power lines just after Silverest Primary School as they continue on to Kapiri Mposhi up to Maposa between Ndola and Kitwe and up to Luano Power Station near Chingola where they further crisscross to Mufulira, Nchanga and Konkola. The distance from Kariba to Chingola is just jaw-dropping if you have travelled the breadth and length of Zambia.
The irony of ironies, though, is that many, many people living under these power lines do not have access to electricity.
I have been underground at Baluba Mine and Konkola Mine but I have never been in the actual power generation stations. I would, however, imagine what an awesome sight it is to see all those giant turbines being driven by water to generate electric power that runs equipment and lights in industry and in our homes hundreds of kilometres away. It is an inescapable fact that electricity is to our lives almost as oxygen is.
Countrywide Power Outage
One can imagine that a power outage on the scale that hit eightof the 10 provinces of Zambia on April 27, badly affected the people largely dependent on electricity for cooking, lighting and the use of gadgets that make life easier. Even more sadly is the effect the outage had on hospitals particularly those on life-support machines and babies in incubators.
The recent power outage is the third in as many years. Most memorable though is the first power outage which affected both Zambia and Zimbabwe, just over six years ago, was attributed to a cyber attack.
Energy Minister Christoppher Yaluma, sometime in 2013 indicated that load-shedding would be history by December 2014. Five months later and definitely beyond, load-shedding is much part of life in the country. The question that needs to be asked even if load-shedding is sorted out for now, is will the installed capacity be enough to meet the growing demand of electricity for a growing population? Zambia’s population, about 4m shortly after independence, has grown to nearly 15m. Going by the percentages, the population is on target to hit 20 million and above in the next few years.
It is not for me to say how much has been invested in the power sector or how much has been borrowed to fund the rehabilitation of power generation stations. I leave that to economist friends. But what Zambia needs to do is to work on alternative sources of energy such as solar and wind-generated power, both of which are in abundant supply by the providence of Mother Nature. As for the sun, Zambian in particular and Africa in general have not less than 10 hours of sunshine per day compared to places like Europe which in some seasons, enjoy less than six hours of the sun per day.
Only recently we were told that the Kariba Dam wall hasdeveloped cracks that need to be repaired. Perish the thought of the consequences of an unrepaired dam wall because if things got to a point of—God forbid—collapsing, the carnage right from Namomba fishing camp in Lusitu all the way to the mouth of the Zambezi River in the Indian Ocean would be unspeakable.
Zambia needs to go back to thermal power generation which should be the easiest because the infrastructure, if not cannibalized or worse, vandalized, is already in place. For those who have been to the ZESCO head office in Lusaka or shop at the Levy Mall, must have seen the concrete cooling tower in the ZESCO yard. Similar infrastructure exists at the Ndola ZESCO workshop along the Chipulukusu/abattoir road turning off from the Itawa/Airport road. In Kitwe, there is one at the Mopani Copper Mines near the smelter. I am sure these can also be found in Mufulira and Chingola as I am not very familiar with these towns.
Thermal Power As Alternative
Developed countries such as the United Kingdom have projected a future power shortage and are working on alternative sources of energy even though they have nuclear power-generated electricity which by any thread of imagination, we would never have in our life time. But we do have the coal in Maamba and Batoka to fire the thermal stations.
Yes, it may be dirty to handle and anachronistic but it is an alternative. Power from those thermal stations could be fed into the grid to power Lusaka and surrounding areas, Ndola and surrounding areas and Kitwe and surrounding areas while power from Kariba and Kafue could be directed to mines and other industries.
When electric power generation sources increase, many people will have access to it at a cheaper rate and will save the environment as people will not be reliant on tree-depleting charcoal and firewood which many people rely upon even when they are connected to the national grid but have to face power outages.