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Zambia, DRC power agreement milestone

ZAMBIA is undoubtedly headed for economic affluence under the new dawn administration, which has yet again inked a power generation agreement with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is barely a couple of weeks after the two countries signed another agreement for production of electric vehicle batteries when that country’s President Felix Tshisekedi visited Zambia. This time around, Zambia and DRC have signed an inter-governmental memorandum of understanding for developing the Luapula River hydro-power scheme which will boost electricity supply in the two countries. The development of hydro-power sites on Luapula River and associated transmission lines in both countries will create enormous economic opportunities, going by Minister of Energy Peter Kapala’s remarks. This project, whose conception was first put forward in 1977, is envisaged to further support the development of different industries whose growth has been hampered because of inadequate and unreliable power supply. “Luapula River was initially investigated for hydro-power potential by the Zambian government in 1977, during which time five sites were established,” the minister said during the signing ceremony on Monday. “In 2001, Zesco Limited carried out another study, which confirmed the potential on Luapula River to be in excess of 1,188 megawatts.”
The Luapula River agreement is particularly important because Zambia is dependent on hydro power generated chiefly from the southern part of the country which, unfortunately, is prone to droughts. The southern part of Zambia has the likes of Kariba North Bank, Kafue Gorge Upper Power Station, which produces up to 990MW, Victoria Falls, and now Kafue Lower Gorge power plant, which has five turbines each producing 150MW. When this part of Zambia receives poor rainfall, especially at Kariba North Bank where power is generated using Kariba Dam shared waters, water levels dwindle drastically, subsequently reducing generation and countrywide load management. Due to erratic rainfall in 2015, for instance, Zambia had one of the worst electricity crises in history when it had a 34 percent shortfall in generation. Kariba North Bank Power Station, with an installed capacity of 1,080MW, reduced generation to 429MW, while Kafue Gorge, with a capacity of producing 990MW, cut down production to 540MW. Victoria Falls is a run-of-the-river power plant with no water storage facility. With an installed capacity of 108MW, it had to reduce generation to below 80MW. This power deficit led to long periods of power outages of between eight and 12 hours a day, adversely affecting businesses from micro to macro level. But with the signing of an inter-governmental memorandum of understanding with DRC for developing the Luapula River hydro-power scheme, which is expected to be generating at least 1,188MW, Zambia may not experience load-shedding of the 2015 magnitude. This is because nearly every time most parts of the country have intermittent rainfall, the northern region rarely experiences such natural calamities because it is in the Congo rain belt. What will be happening, therefore, is that in the event of a drought in southern Zambia resulting in reduced power generation, Luapula River hydro-power plant and the already established mini-hydro plants in this region will be cushioning the deficit. Some of the hydro-power plants in the northern region are Chishimba, Musonda Falls, Shiwang’andu, Lusiwashi, and Lunzua. Zambia’s latest signing of a hydro-power generation agreement with DRC has further boosted trade ties between the two countries and more support to the development of various industries whose growth has been hampered by inadequate and unreliable electricity supply. Already, Zambia exports commodities like maize and mealie meal to DRC, the existing trade relations which will be bolstered by the Luapula River hydro-power scheme agreement.
DRC is a strategic trade partner of Zambia whose relations should continue to be reinforced for the mutual benefit of the two neighbouring countries.