As the country aspires for the ambitious target of reaching three million tonnes of copper production per annum in the next 10 years, sharp increase in investments in alternative energy is urgently needed to triple power generation.
Currently, the country has around 3,500 megawatts (MW) of installed electricity capacity of which about 80 per cent is hydro-generated and susceptible to climate fluctuations.
Apart from the anticipated copper production boom, commercial and other industrial activities coupled with the ever-expanding residential areas will continue soaring demand for electricity.
More concerted efforts from the public and the private sector will be needed to meet the expected power demand.
Therefore, the recent inauguration of the 33 MW of solar power by the Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC) in Kitwe is in line with the country's economic aspirations.
President Hakainde Hichilema observes that the CEC's extended 34 MW solar project is a game changer in achieving the country's required energy mix.
President Hichilema states that the solar project will boost the country's power generation capacity as it looks at doubling the current 3,500MW in the next five years and become a net-exporter of power in the region.
"The private sector should work with Zesco as the Government looks at doubling the current power generation capacity. The CEC solar project is a game changer, the previous regime wanted to kill CEC, so this project was not going to be launched today. So we have committed ourselves to encouraging private sector participation in the economy," he says.
He says CEC and other private sector players should take advantage of the recent signing of an agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government-owned renewable energy company, Masdar, to develop a $2 billion solar power to forge partnerships.
President Hichilema says it is disappointing to note that 57 years after independence, the country has only managed to create a generation capacity of 3, 500 MW.
He says he is delighted to note that CEC deployed US$22 million own generated capital to develop the 33 MW while looking at adding in excess of 200 MW to the national grid in the next two years.
"How do you grow the economy without enough power to power production?
We are simply dozing, sleeping, The UPND (United Party for National Development) approach is different from the need to double the current electricity generation capacity by costs," says Mr Hichilema
On the other hand, CEC board chairperson London Mwafulilwa states that the 34 MW is capable of powering a record 10,000 households which will go a long way in mitigating a future energy crisis.
"The 34 MW extended solar project will go a long way in resolving any future power challenges that the country may face. This solar plant is capable of serving the electricity needs of more than 10,000 households, with the enabling environment, we will not end here, this is just a start," Mr Mwafulilwa says.
The CEC has also started developing another 64 MW solar power farm in Kitwe's Garneton area.
Mr Mwafulilwa says most of the preparatory works for an additional 64 MW of solar energy have advanced.
According to CEC, the 64 MW that will be done at the cost of US$100 million is expected to be added to the national grid by the end of this year.
"We are doing an additional 64 MW planned for Itimpi in Garneton right here in Kitwe, which we expect to come on line by the end of this year," he says.
Alongside that, the company has interest in developing 138 MW wind power project in partnership with UPEPO Zambia in Masaiti.
He adds that by the end of 2024, CEC is expected to have brought in at least 200 MW of new power generation from renewable energy sources.
"We remain highly committed to making tangible and real contributions to the development of a green economy in our country Zambia," Mr Mwafulilwa states.
In total CEC is looking to grow its share of renewable energy resources to 300 MW in the next four years.
CEC managing director Owen Silavwe reveals that the construction phase created 800 job opportunities for local people and eight Copperbelt University students.
"We set our sights on developing various resources and technologies that reflect sustainability principles. The 33-MW solar plant is only the beginning of the realisation of that dream," Mr Silavwe says.
He says CEC is ready to partner and work with the Government in actualising an energy sector that not only fully serves the needs of the Zambian people but more importantly, successfully plays its role in enabling social-economic growth and development.
For the Kitwe District Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KDCCI), the launch of the extended 34 MW by CEC is an indication that a mix of public and private sector in the energy sector is critical in making the country an energy surplus nation.
"This (CEC's 34 MW) is an indication that when there is a level playing field for private sector participation in the economy, results can be seen ," KDCCI president Emmanuel Mbambiko states.
He says the private sector, as demonstrated by one of the corporate members of the chamber, CEC, is willing to tap into the US$2 billion renewable energy investment from the UAE.
Alliance for Zambian Informal Economy Association (AZIEA) also observes that with more investments in alternative energy, the country will be able to find a lasting solution to power shortages.
AZIEA president Poster Jumbe says there is need for more investments in alternative energy such as solar and wind to reduce heavy dependence on hydro-power which is susceptible to climate changes.
"There is a need to invest more in solar and wind energy to reduce overdependence on hydro power so that once and for-all we stop talking about power cuts in the country," Mr Jumbe says.
He says when there is a loss of power his members are hit the most because they can hardly afford generator sets.
Hence, the private sector driven CEC extended 34 MW will go miles in boosting the country's power generation capacity.
The solar project would boost the country's power generation capacity as it looks at doubling the current 3,500 MW in the next five years and become a net exporter of power in the region.