Hydro: the solution to Zambia’s power deficit?21 May 2014
As the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation urges the country to face up to the reality of power deficits, a national think tank has been encouraging the government to tap into unutilised hydropower resources to help remedy the problem.
In an effort to address its current and projected power deficit, the Government of Zambia has been urged to take action and develop legislation to promote renewable energy development throughout the country.
Seventy-five percent of Zambia currently does not have access to electricity. Only 14% of electricity is supplied by the national power grid and more than 70% of Zambians use biomass sources such as wood fuel. Although this is a cheap source of energy it has led to increased levels of deforestation across the country.
Other problems facing Zambia include the fact that energy demands have been rising due to increasing economic activity, particularly in the mining, agricultural and manufacturing sectors. According to the Ministry of Finance, the Zambian economy has been growing at an average of 5% per annum over the past ten years. And as of December 2012, total energy demand exceeded internal generation capacity. Prolonged load shedding and power cuts have been taking place, affecting trade and production.
As reported by the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) in April 2013: "The power deficit is not a myth, it is real. Currently the national demand of power is far above 1780MW at peak. However ZESCO only has the capacity to generate around 1700MW. This gives a power deficit at peak times which leads to load management."
If new mining and industrial loads begin to occur at the pace that ZESCO currently expects, it is anticipated that there will be a severe and immediate shortfall in power supply. An inability to meet projected demand growth will delay the pace of further development and be a significant risk for the Zambian economy.
Think tank focuses on power
Addressing power development throughout Zambia has become a focal point for the country's think tank The Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC). Established in 2012, PMRC says it is helping to unlock Zambia's potential by producing timely policy analysis and reform proposals.It says it is responsible for aiding Zambians, the government and donors to monitor the country's progress and consider ways in which the government might develop and adapt policies or regulations to ensure effective delivery.
In October 2013 PMRC published a report on the state of the energy sector in Zambia, looking at the implications for industrial development, jobs and poverty reduction. Head of monitoring and evaluation at PMRC, Salim Kaunda, said that his country had the ability to meet wider development objectives but was held back by lack of access to sufficient sources of reliable energy. PMRC said that the government should unleash Zambia's clean energy potential and realise the substantial gains that can be obtained for the environment, energy security and sustained robust economic development.
“Economic growth is synonymous with energy access," PMRC states in its report. "Energy and its accessibility are at the core of social, economic and environmental concerns facing all nations. It is particularly critical in developing countries as the implications to reduced poverty are significant."
PMRC added that its objective was to contribute to current policy discussions on the energy sector and to call upon the government to accelerate policy formulation and investments in renewable energy and infrastructure.
6GW of hydropower potential
Zambia has abundant renewable and non-renewable energy sources and PMRC highlights the fact that it possesses vast water resources. According to figures published by the Zambia Development Agency in June 2013, the country has about 6000MW of hydropower potential; only 1985MW of which have been utilised. Although hydropower generation has the potential to satisfy national demands for energy, a lack of infrastructure throughout the country has proved to be a barrier to development.
PMRC states that despite having abundant hydro resources, amongst other renewables, Zambia has not been able to utilise these to improve the attractiveness of the energy sector and transfer the benefits of industrial expansion, employment creation and poverty reduction countrywide.
Although the government has been given credit for striving to try and increase generation capacity to meet energy demands in recent years, PMRC urges it to continue to formulate additional incentives to attract more investment into the energy sector and reduce the number of challenges it faces.
Acknowledging the important role that electricity plays in socio-economic development, the Energy Regulation Board is now reported to be working closely with industry stakeholders to promote investment in power infrastructure. While the government's Rural Electrification Master Plan has set targets to increase electrification rates to 66% of households by 2030.
Looking to the future, Zambia is urged to avoid investing its limited resources into one solution. Although bio fuels are regarded as stimulants to development in developing countries such as Zambia, the government is advised to be cautious. It is urged to make a careful analysis of such fuel production and its associated problems of competition for land use and deforestation. PMRC concludes that other accessible, clean energy sources such as hydropower should be given thorough consideration.
The State of The Energy Sector in Zambia. Implications for Industrial Development, Jobs and Poverty Reduction. Published by the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre. October 2013. Prepared by Salim Kaunda, (Head of Monitoring and Evaluation) with the Support of Michelle Morel (Executive Director) and Masuzyo Mtawali (Communication Specialist).