AN ASSESSMENT of how Zambia is doing in terms of developing the energy sector depends very much on how the question is framed.
If we are to measure the current state of electricity supply against the past, we seem to be doing badly due to limited investment in the power generation and renewable energy.
We have seen over the years, industrial or commercial energy supply increased even more significantly, while power generation is currently at 1,605 mega watts (MW).
Despite the country recording favourable growth rates in the last five years, we remain woefully constrained in terms of the overall energy availability to service the growing population which currently stands at more than 13 million.
While higher energy and electricity consumption is not an end in itself, availability of adequate and modern forms of energy is generally correlated with human and economic development.
Worse still, the distribution of energy use in the country is highly skewed, with a wide disparity between the energy haves and have-nots.
Most of our total primary energy supply still comes from hydropower generation at the same time underutilising other sources of energy such as renewable energy.
It has now become apparent that the increased economic activities in the country have not matched the level of power generation, thereby making it difficult for Zesco to service the growing population.
As the population grew, the country witnessed a rapid increase in power demand due to increased mining, industrial and agricultural investments as well as the rise in domestic load.
However, Zesco managing director Cyprian Chitundu pointed out that delayed investment in generation plants has not matched the load growth, resulting in deficit in power generation capacity of about 250 MW.
It is worth noting that the delayed investment in transmission and distribution system has also led to the depleting power transmission and distribution capacity, which means that the utility company had to come up with a strategic plan to manage the deficit.
Mr Chitundu said due to the current generation deficit, load management was carried out to ensure system security.
He said: "The level of load shedding is determined by the difference between the available generation capacity and the forecast demand, saying it is on this basis that load management schedules are prepared but load management schedules are as much prepared such that there is fairness in the implementation."
In order to address the challenges facing the power system in the country, Mr Chitundu highlighted the short-term measures that would help ease load shedding in the country as well as increase the generation capacity.
He said the company was expected to commission the remaining 180MW generator at Kariba North Bank power station this year increasing the available capacity to 1,785MW.
In addition, 50MW would be made available from Ndola Energy by the end of 2012, increasing available capacity to 1,835 MW and Mr Chitundu pointed out that Ndola Energy Company was the designer, owner and operator of 50MW power plant being constructed in Ndola with a total investment of US$60 million.
The project is the first green field independent power producer to operate in Zambia with funding being 100 per cent private sector capital.
This is possible because the company believes in Zambia's socio, economic and environmental infrastructure and it has a 15-year power off take agreement with Zesco.
Mr Chitundu said that the commissioning of the first 180MW machine at Kariba by November 2013 would further boost the power capacity to 2,015MW.
The vigorous plans would enable the company to increase power generation in the country; therefore, the company was scheduled to complete the distribution expansion and reinforcement project in Lusaka, Kitwe and Mufulira by February 2013.
"In the short-term we will complete the rehabilitation of Skyways substation in Ndola by end of 2012 and complete Mushili substation in Ndola by Match 2013.We are planning to complete the upgrade of Mazabuka substation by end of October 2012.The recovered transformers from Mazabuka will benefit Choma town and Chisamba farming block," he said.
The company's short and long term plans would help to deal with load shedding that is currently being experienced.
In the long run, the company would increase the transmission capacity from pensulo in Kasama 330KV transmission line in the next 24 months as well, the Pensulo-Msoro-Chipata 330KV transmission line in the next 24 months.
Other projects in the pipeline include the Lusaka West-Mumbwa to Itezhi Tezhi 330 KV transmission line in the next 24 months and among others.
The ongoing implementation would ensure that the generation capacity being added is utilised responsibly and in sustainable way.
Commenting on the current situation, President Michael Sata regretted that the country was experiencing load-shedding which had drastically disrupted many economic activities and people's way of life.
In this regard, Mr Sata said Government had prioritised the implementation of projects aimed at increasing the national generation capacity of electricity as well as promoting energy efficiency.
The measures would enable the country to meet the upswing in demand caused by increased economic activities, hence ensure reliability and quality of supply of electricity in the country particularly in the rural area.
Furthermore, Government has been upscaling the capacity at Kariba North Power Station to help meet the deficit.
The President said Government was promoting other sources such as coal in order to complement hydro power.
To this effect, the Government is facilitating construction of the Maamba Coal fired thermal 300 mega watts power station as well as the heavy fuel oil 50 MW plant in Ndola which would come on stream early next year.
"These developments will ensure that the energy sector plays its meaningful role in national development," Mr Sata said.
But a pan-African renewable energy solar production company, African Solar Power Corporation Zambia Limited (AfriSolar) said it was important for the Government to focus on renewable energy because it had the potential to significantly mitigate the power supply inadequacies.
"Solar power today in Africa has the potential in allowing us to significantly mitigate our power supply inadequacies whilst positively meeting with the challenges of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and Africa in the energy sector as well in curbing the currently growing power deficit of over 3,000 mega watts
(MW)," AfriSolar Power Zambia executive chairman Akapelwa Akapelwa said.
He said the Government should consider directing some of the funds from the US$750 million Euro Bond into the renewable energy sector, saying that this would help mitigate the current power supply challenges.
"We only hope that with the noted acquisition of the US$750 million euro bond, the Government also considers allocating more funds to the renewable energy sector," he said.
AfriSolar is a regional independent power producer company established to pursue renewable energy investment and development projects in the SADC region within the local solar power industry.
Energy, Mines and Development Minister Yamfwa Mukanga said the current problems being experienced in the country was as a result of limited investment in power generation adding that the Government was pumping in a lot of investment to ensure that Zesco revamps a number of hydro power stations.
"Through the years there hasn't been any investment in the power generation because we have this constant power supply while the population has been increasing and mining activities increasing and at the end of the day we have load shedding," he said.
Mr Mukanga called on the investors to come on board and invest in thermal power generation, especially renewable energy such as solar power.
On the power front, the best way to contribute to energy security is to make sure that the country's coal resources are fully assessed and then extracted and used efficiently.
Advanced renewable power have potential in principle and technologies such as solar energy and thermal power can contribute significantly in easing the power outages in the country considering the growing power deficit fostered by high socio-economic growth.