Luapula River. Pic credits. Brian J. McMorrow
The Luapula River on the border between the D.R. Congo (left) and Zambia (right) will be the focus of hydropower development between 2017 and 2020. Pic credits: Brian J. McMorrow

Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have announced the development of hydropower plants on the Luapula River, which forms part of the border between the two countries, as part of long-term measures to boost power generation in the region, reported the Times of Zambia last week.

The signed inter-governmental Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) will see joint hydropower projects commence in 2017, with a completion date set for 2020.

Hydropower deficit

The projects will assist Zambia to manage the power deficit due to limited output capacity by the country’s electricity supply utility Zesco following dwindling water levels in the Kariba Dam and other hydropower plants.

The water levels at the Kariba and Itezhi-Tezhi reservoirs have drastically reduced due to poor rainfall in the 2014/2015 rainy season, forcing the Zambezi River Authority to ration water used for power generation by 10%.

According to the Times of Zambia, Zesco has in turn lost $116 million (ZAR1.45 billion) on account of rationing power to each customer for up to 10 hours each day.

Hydropower vision

Christopher Yaluma, Zambia’s Minister of Mines, Energy & Water, said after the signing ceremony the power constraint existing on the continent and particularly in the region, where nearly all the countries were faced with massive power outages, called for joint efforts in addressing the problem.

He said now was the time for the country to position itself in responding positively towards attainment of universal access to electricity for the rural populace.

Yaluma further reiterated the Government’s commitment to accelerating the development of the hydropower sites as a way to enhance security of power supply, promote electricity trade and stimulate economic growth for the region as a whole.

“Currently, the power balance in Zambia is very tight and load shedding is being applied as a way of managing the levels in the country’s main reservoirs arising from poor rainfall last season. Therefore, the expeditious implementation of the hydropower sites on the shared river course of Luapula is indeed a priority for Zambia”, he said.

The Zambian government has indicated that the country would need to import power ranging from 150 to 200MWs to mitigate the current energy deficit.

Transmission for hydropower

At the same signing ceremony, Zesco and SNEL, the national power utility for the DRC, signed another MoU for implementation and construction of a 330v transmission interconnector from Solwezi to Kolwezi in the DRC to support the hydropower projects.

Jeanot Gamanda, the DRC’s Minister of Hydraulic Resources and Electricity, said the government would wholly commit itself to ensure the projects, earmarked to commerce in 2017, was brought to fruition within the stipulated three years of implementation.

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