Zambia endeavours to connect its people to power

By Jeff Kapembwa Lusaka 

Zambia predicts to add 2,000 megawatts of power to the national grid by the end of this year. The copper-rich nation has about 2,600 megawatts of installed capacity, practically all of which is hydro. But with the increasing demand for energy, Zambia is developing mini power grids to bolster electricity production through thermal, biomass and wind.

The desire to increase output stems from the need for the country to increase the number of people using electricity, of which a paltry four percent of Zambians in rural areas have access to electricity, compared to 25 percent of urban dwellers. Energy Permanent Secretary Emelda Chola said in interview that energy is the driving force behind economic development, hence the need to identify additional energy sources to generate more power and enable more people to access power.

Speaking to The Southern Times on the sidelines of the annual general meeting of the African Association of Rural Electrification in Lusaka, Chola noted that electricity would assist the country reduce poverty among various households. It is estimated that more than 15 million people in Zambia still rely on charcoal for their livelihood and energy needs. She said the government in collaboration with the private sector seeks to maximise on the abundant renewable and non-renewable energy resources that include over 40 percent of water the country is endowed with, mostly around the Zambezi basin.

The country is also endowed with vast industrial minerals including coal, agricultural land to support biofuels, ample forests for biomass, abundant wind for wind energy and long intense hours of sunlight to support solar generation. Zambia, Chola said, is faced with the task of increasing access to modern forms of energy for the population, especially the rural based, hence the need to develop various grids in collaboration with the Rural Electrification Authority (REA), an agent that is adopted in many parts Africa. “Electrification in Zambia, like in many other developing countries in Africa, is largely a social programme whose investment cost is astonishingly huge but the low access rate to electricity both in rural and areas of Zambia is not gratifying and that is why we are partnering with the private sector to ensure more people have access to electricity,” said the senior government official.

According to the Central Statistics Office, a paltry 25 percent of people in urban have access to power, while 4.4 percent in rural areas are connected to the national grid with 7.5 percent using solar energy. “This implies that the majority of the population remains in the dark despite the country having so much potential with regards to the hydropower generation capacity and other renewable energy sources,” Chola said. AARE, also dubbed Club ER, held its second general assembly and thirteenth annual meeting in Lusaka this week from 4 to 8 September.

The meeting was held under the theme ‘Sustainable Rural Electrification Projects: Tariffs for Mini Grids’. In her address to the meeting, Chola said following the revision of energy tariffs in Zambia to 75 percent, in which 50 percent was effected on 15 May and the 50 percent effected on 1 September this year, many players in the private sector have expressed desire to invest in renewable energy. To promote the off grid power solutions, the government sought to initiate costs reflective tariffs to attract private investment. Some of energy projects have already taken off the ground while others are at construction stage.

It is hoped that once all projects are completed, Zambia could have an addition 2,000 megawatts or more to meet the export and domestic demand. Chola revealed that the government approval of the renewable energy feed in tariff strategy to be launched later this year would help in promoting renewable energy technologies in the country as well as assist in the diversified energy mix. Kipyego Cheluget, deputy secretary general of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), spoke of the need for the people on the continent to have access to modern forms of energy to ease their plight and assist reduce climate change effects.

Cheluget noted that while Africa is endowed with an installed capacity of 150 gigawatt for a population of 1 billion people, less the population of South Africa and Egypt, with a combined population of 150 million leaves only 70 gigawatts for the continent, which has deprived Africa of energy development.

Further comparison with developing countries shows that Africa remains far behind in terms of developing energy infrastructure to levels that will comfortably attract and support investment required to move the continent out of poverty. “Africa remains with the lowest electricity access rates in the world with an estimated 600 million, representing 50 percent of the population on the continent having access to electricity….majority of the people without access reside in rural areas,” noted Cheluget.

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