That is one word that is bound to preoccupy our news and discussions for many months to come as the country faces a power crisis due to low levels of water in the water bodies used to generate electricity.
Earlier this week came the alarming news that the water in Lake Kariba, where the country’s major source of hydro power is situated, has dropped to record levels.
The current energy crisis comes four years after Zambia navigated through another energy shortage that affected the country economically and socially.
In fact, Zambia’s power shortage was predicted as early as 2006.
Unfortunately as a nation, we only seem to have a light bulb moment in this sense when the actual light bulb goes off as a result of a power outage.
In 2015, when the country was faced with an energy crisis, about 400 energy experts and investors gathered at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre for what was called Energy Indaba to discuss the country’s future in terms of energy.
It was generally agreed at that conference, which was organised by the Ministry of Energy, that there was need to switch to alternative energy because of the unreliability of hydro power due to climate change.
Solar energy was flaunted as the best alternative. Africa, which has some of the sunniest spots on the planet, offers huge potential for solar energy.
In fact, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), solar could become the world’s largest source of electricity by mid-century, providing about a quarter of its power.
IEA predicts that by 2060, solar power will account for a third of the global energy requirement.
Many countries in Europe, including those with limited sunshine, such as Sweden, are already switching to solar energy.
With 174,000 terawatts, the sun is an inexhaustible source of energy.
But four years since that energy indaba and its progressive outcomes, we have to ask, what has changed?
Of course those in charge of the sector will name a small new power project here, another one there, and one or two big projects coming up somewhere, but there has not been a major shift in the sector in terms of policy and, more importantly, mind-set among the general citizenry.
We must by now become accustomed to the unpredictability and unreliability of the weather due largely to climate change, and adapt as individuals and as a nation.
Clearly the need for energy is growing faster than we can build dams.
We, therefore, cannot agree more with the Chitimukulu, paramount chief of the Bemba people, when he calls for organisations such as the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) to consider adopting alternative sources of power.
The Chitimukulu said finding alternative sources of power will help the authority and other power generating companies increase the scope of their beneficiaries as well as quicken the progress of meeting their targets.
“Why don’t you adopt alternatives such as biomass or wind for power generation? Finding alternatives will help you a lot in your projects,” he said.
According to the Chitimukulu, “Sometimes it is not money that works. It is sharing ideas and in this case, it’s just a matter of people sitting and discussing.”
Indeed, a lot could change if all shopping malls, for instance, installed solar power, even just for administration purposes?
But Government must come up with incentives such as tax rebates to encourage private businesses to invest in solar power generation.
Zambia must also consider establishing factories that will produce solar panels in future, to avoid the cost of importation of solar panels.
We must always remember that energy borders on national security, and unreliable supply of the same makes a country vulnerable to many forces.
Besides, living on unsustainable energy is like living on borrowed time. Anything can happen any time.
This truth is clearly put across in the parable of the foolish virgins in the Bible, whose lamps did not have enough oil.
We must act now to avert any such crises in future.