The Republic of Zambia is a landlocked country in southern Africa with a population of over 16.5 million. A shocking 54.4 percent of this population lives below the World Bank’s standardized poverty line. Currently, Zambia is unable to effectively meet the energy needs of its citizens. As a result, the Zambian government, USAID, independent investors and NGOs throughout the U.S. and Europe are investing in solar energy in Zambia, as they believe it has the potential to greatly reduce poverty and contribute to meeting the country’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Problems with Current Zambian Energy Infrastructure
A majority of Zambia’s nationalized energy production is created using hydroelectric dams; however, the dams face many problems in terms of their reach and reliability. Dams in the country only provide power to 10 percent of the Zambian population. Furthermore, the dams become unreliable as drought conditions increase throughout southern Africa. Zambia’s climate pattern works around a wet and dry season. As the rainy seasons become shorter and less intense, the dams are not filled to capacity. Less water in dam spillways inherently results in less energy production and more frequent blackouts.
Consequently, a majority of Zambians rely on charcoal to meet their energy and heat needs. The need for charcoal results in widespread deforestation of the savannah woodlands that make up a majority of the Zambian natural ecosystem. As a result, habitat destruction decreases biodiversity, degrades the natural ecosystem services and damages what could be a lucrative Zambian ecotourism industry. Because of these problems, the Zambian government and outside investors are looking toward solar alternatives, recognizing the benefits of solar energy in Zambia.
The Solution: Solar Energy in Zambia
Director of the Zambian Development Agency (ZDA) Patrick Chisanga and other branches of the Zambian government are teaming up with investors throughout the United States and Europe to provide funding toward solar energy in Zambia. The ZDA is currently negotiating a $500 million solar investment deal from an unnamed German company hoping to provide projects and products to the growing market.
In 2015, USAID Zambia and Power Africa provided $2 million of funding to the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Scaling Solar project, which has contributed $4 billion in global solar investments, to further develop smaller-scale commercial and utility solar energy in Zambia. NGOs like the U.K.-based Solar Aid are currently working in conjunction with a group called Sunny Munny to develop solar projects and provide resources to the very eager Zambian communities.
Moving Toward the Future
Solar energy development in Zambia continues what is already a growing trend of technological leapfrogging throughout the African continent. Zambians understand that they may never be a part of the nationalized power grid and therefore readily accept solar energy infrastructure as a solution to this problem. In a report conducted by BBC in Jan. 2018, reporters describe buzzing excitement in villages after they set up their solar technologies and finally had access to their own non-biofuel energy source.
With the help of Zambian government action, USAID investment, private investment and nonprofits like SolarAid, solar energy in Zambia will help the country approach several of its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals: providing citizen access to reliable modern energy resources, building resilient infrastructure and protecting and restoring natural ecosystems within the country.
– Daniel Levy