Zambia has the lowest electricity tariffs in the region mainly because the abundant power source provided by Kariba hydropower which lulled us into a false sense of security that has now been rudely interrupted by the reality of deficit occasioned by mother nature.
It has now become imperative that the country scouts for new viable and cost effective sources that will take account of the growing domestic and industrial demand.
It has been estimated that by 2050 more than 60 percent of Africa’s population will be resident in urban areas to service the equally growing industrial sector.
To date the mining sector consumes more than 50 percent of the energy produced, domestic consumption is about 20 percent and the rest is spread over industrial and commercial concerns.
This tabulation excludes the rural electrification programme that intends to extend electricity more than 22 percent of the population resident in close proximity to the electricity grid.
The need for increased power generation is self evident and yet our policies particularly approved tariffs work against any meaningful effort to engage private sector participation in power generation.
Like maize, electricity is a political commodity whose price engenders a sensitivity that has political connotations.
This can be seen by the tariff structures which on average vary between US$0.03-$0.04 per kWh, while Namibia charges US$7.83 for the same power and Zimbabwe charges US$9.86.
This is unsustainable because the cost of generation is way above these figures but now the situation has been compounded by the lack of water for hydro-generation. In any event erecting a hydro-power station is not only time consuming but is also expensive with a long gestation period before profitability is attained.
What Zambia needs now are urgent measures because the 600 kilowatt excess generation forecast for 2016 is totally below actual demand given the growth of our mining industry and burgeoning domestic consumption.
It follows therefore that more cost effective generation capacities are developed from such resources as solar, wind and thermal of which we have abundant capacity and indeed which can be developed with minimum invasion on the environment.
Zambia has been blessed with a number of hot springs which resource has never been applied to any useful economic endeavour except for the occasional tourist curiosity.
Neither have we seriously developed solar energy except for powering television sets, fridges and lighting home in rural areas.
Elsewhere in the world these resources have been fully developed with impact on national grids and this is achieved by private sector participation which is assured full cost recovery.
Time has come that electricity is de-politicized and where government feels strongly about extending this a very clear subsidy programme must be put in place to avoid crowding out the private sector.
We are wasting between 2000 and 3000 hours of sunshine every day which could be used in the rural electrification grid. Equally the western province has very high wind speeds suitable for power generation and yet little effort has gone into this direction.
Time has come for us to count our blessings and not look the gift horse in the mouth.