$2 billion. This is the worth of solar projects to be developed by Zambia’s state-owned power utility Zesco and the United Arab Emirates renewable energy company Masdar after the companies signed an agreement earlier this week.
Aimed at facilitating investment in Zambia’s renewable energy, the project is expected to commence immediately, starting with the phased installation of 500 megawatts (MW). Upon completion, the projects will result in an additional 2,000 megawatts of electricity in the country within the next few years.
Mounting power crises
Since mid-December, Zambians have had to live with rationed electricity supply following a massive drop in water levels in lake Kariba, threatening hydropower generation which contributes more than 75% of the country’s power output.
The Kariba South Bank Power station in the country has an installed capacity of 1050 MW. But since water levels in the lake have dropped to 4.1% of usable storage, Zambia has had to generate a maximum of 800 MW to avoid a complete shutdown. Now the rationing, which started with domestic customers, has been extended to mining firms, the major electricity consumer in the country. It is obvious that hydroelectricity in Zambia is currently not sufficient to meet the energy deficit the country is facing.
This energy problem is not peculiar to just Zambia but the African continent at large. The continent faces a huge energy deficit, and it is one of the significant factors that have stymied its economic development. Per the African Development Bank (AFDB), the continent has the lowest energy access in the world with over 640 million Africans having no access to it. As of 2020, only 44.52 % of the population in Zambia enjoyed electricity access.
These energy deficit figures have grave consequences. A significant number of Africans can not keep their food cool; many still rely on firewood or charcoal as cooking fuel which results in thousands of deaths annually, health services are crippled, and the cost of doing business is increasing. Unfortunately, unless measures are taken to address these challenges, the situation would worsen as the demand for electricity increases.
What wonder can $2 billion solar projects do?
A lot. The projected 2,000 megawatts of electricity to the country upon the completion of the solar projects are expected to essentially reduce the country’s reliance on energy imports which is often an added fiscal pressure, especially during the power crisis.
While these solar projects may not be able to light up the whole of Zambia, they will contribute a significant quota in lighting up areas that are energy deficient like the rural areas with an energy access rate of 4.4 -11%.
This project positions the country as a favourable energy investment hub in renewable energy. This serves as a positive signal to investors looking for opportunities amidst the world’s race to jettison the use of fossil fuels.
Largely, these renewable projects will not just promote the judicious use of energy but also support socio-economic and environmental goals of poverty eradication and climate change mitigation and adaptation.