Emergence of solar power and its role as the future source of energy in Zambia

Nita Karume :

In Zambia, solar power is slowly but gradually emerging as the main source of renewable energy for the country. This is attributed to its being investor-friendly and is based on pragmatic policy. It also thrives on the collaboration between Government and the private sector.

According to media reports, the emergence of the sub-sector was triggered in part by the 2008 power crisis and the onset of electricity rationing that followed. Consequently, Zambia could no longer ignore the incredible energy potential of its abundant sunlight and wind. As such, the government set up targets for its Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) and in its Vision 2030, which is the first long-term written plan for Zambia.

Among the plans was the target of increasing electricity generation to 6,000 megawatts (MW) by 2030. As it is, renewables are delivering clean energy, jobs, technology, foreign direct investment, rural development, community benefits, skills and new research.

Between 2015 and 2016, Zambia faced a critical shortage of electricity. Since then, its electricity generation sector is being transformed as a number of steps have been taken with increasing private sector participation.

For instance 2015 saw the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, launch its first-ever Scaling Solar project to attract investment in large-scale solar projects with a total capacity of 76MW.

This was later followed by an announcement from ZESCO about an increase in electricity tariffs of 75%. This, according to the state owned body, was in an effort to reduce Government subsidies for electricity, estimated at US $500m. This released valuable tax revenue for the treasury, enabling it to channel resources into electricity infrastructure, as well as other sectors.

Last year, the World Bank Group approved an International Development Association loan to the tune of US $2.8m to leverage around US $48m in private sector-led development in solar energy in Zambia. This guarantee will support the development of a 34MW solar photovoltaic (PV) plant by Ngonye Power.

Furthermore, the backing of public international organizations has since given renewed confidence to foreign companies investing in the Zambian energy sector.

One such example is the United States Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which has funded the first utility scale solar power facility being supported by a US $13m OPIC loan and a US $26m loan from IFC.

Meanwhile, the government is undertaking a World Bank project to upscale solar projects in the country. This is for purposes of increasing solar electricity generation capacity and diversify electricity generation sources in the country.

World Bank country manager for Zambia Ina Ruthenberg said recently that the World Bank is financing the Scaling Solar energy project. Ms. Ruthenberg explained that the joint IDC and IFC project addresses Zambia’s current power shortages by increasing the reliability and security of electricity supplies and putting Zambia on a path towards sustainable energy.

According to Ms Ruthenberg, the project will finance the construction, operation, and maintenance of a new 55 megawatt peak (MWp) solar PV plant to be located in the multi-facility economic zone in Lusaka.

Presently, the IDC maintains a 100 percent ownership of the two solar projects. However, it is reported that majority shareholding will be reduced by the two winning bidders who will be assuming majority control in each company.

On the other hand, the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) chief executive officer Geoffrey Musonda said that according to statistics access to modern sources of energy in rural areas is as low as three percent of the rural population. This, he said, will hopefully increase to 51 percent by 2030 in line with the authority’s goal.




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