Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Renewable Energy in Zambia


Last week, the United States Agency for International development (USAID) through its Southern Africa Trade Hub (SATH) under the auspices of the Regional Electricity Regulators Association (RERA) held a course in Renewable Energy Regulation. The course was hosted with the assistance of the Energy Regulation Board in Lusaka. Eighty delegates (of whom 21 came from outside Zambia) attended the Course. We were taken through a variety of topics covering renewable energy sources led by the irrepressible Professor Francis Yamba (Course Director). We received a lot of information regarding the comparative costs of different types of renewable energy and were also able through group work to assess our different levels of development regarding RE in SADC countries. It is however important for us to assess the practical value of the course that we attended.

Zambia Energy Situation

It is important as we discuss this topic that the reader is aware of the following statistics:

·                Peak power demand in Zambia is around 1900 MW while maximum generation capacity is around 1800 MW (if all the generators are available).
·                This power serves 19% of the population. The remaining 81% of Zambian do not have access to electricity.
·                Zambia’s total hydro-electric generation potential is estimated at 6,000 MW.

It is clear from the above analysis that even if we develop all of our hydro-electric potential we will still lack enough electricity to serve the entire current population of Zambia. The question arises as to how we will bridge this gap. It is interesting to note that the hydro-electric potential of the Democratic Republic of Congo is 100,000 MW (more than enough to power the entire SADC region). It is, however, unlikely that we will see serious efforts to tap this potential in the near future.  

Renewable Energy Sources 

The following were the energy sources discussed and analysed:

1.             Solar - photovoltaic and thermal
2.             Biofuels – biodiesel and bioethanol
3.             Biomass – solid, liquid and gas
4.             Wind power
5.             Hydroelectric power – mini and large
6.             Geothermal
7.             Ocean

Zambia does not lack sunlight and as such the country has a very good solar generation potential. The exploitation of solar power has been limited to applications in health and education. There have also been projects in the past where palaces of traditional leaders have also been provided with solar power. At present there are no programmes or legal instruments in place to increase the penetration of solar power for the domestic consumer.
Co-generation schemes such as Zambia Sugar show great potential for expansion from the current generating capacity of 58 GWhr to around 414 GWhr if technologies such as Condensing Extraction Steam Turbines (CEST) are implemented. These schemes will not take off unless new regulations requiring the utility to purchase electricity from such projects are enacted.

There is also some geothermal potential that has been identified in the country although these sites now need to be classified in terms of whether they are high enthalpy or not. Higher enthalpy geothermal power involves the direct injection of geothermal steam as opposed to lower enthalpy sources which require heat exchangers and working fluids. For a long time it has been believed that Zambia has little potential for wind power. Measurements taken at 30 m above ground level have indicated wind speeds between 6 - 9 m/s in Chongwe (favourable for development). This should be considered in addition to measurements taken in Mpika at 2 m above ground level which indicate wind speeds in excess of 10 m/s.

Very little exploitation of solid biomass has taken place although Copperbelt Energy Corporation is developing a project in which sawdust is being gasified and then combusted to drive a turbine (around 750 kW). Zambia also has a large amount of agricultural waste that could also be harnessed to generate electricity using the same technology. The potential of this waste as a source of energy is a massive 638,000 GWhr. The beauty of this type of technology is that it can be used as a local level to generate power in rural areas. It will be increasingly important to identify isolated grid development opportunities.           

Experiences in Zambia – The Energy Service Company (ESCO)

During my work at the Energy Regulation Board, I was involved in the monitoring of the performance of energy service companies in Eastern Province. A grant was provided by the Swedish government to set up three companies in Nyimba (NESCO - 100 systems), Chipata (CHESCO - 150 systems) and Lundazi (LESCO - 150 systems) in 1998. The model involved the following:

·                procurement of the systems,
·                the installation of the system in homes by a licensed installation company
·                transfer of the ownership of the systems to the ESCO
·                training of technicians employed by the ESCOs to maintain the systems
·                the payment of a monthly fee by the customer to the ESCO for use    

Despite what people may think about the rural capacity to pay, the experience of all the companies was that collection of payments was not a big problem (service charge was around K50,000 per month for each system). They faced bigger problems with battery maintenance. As someone who has heard a mother enthusing about how her son’s school performance has improved and also received reports from a headmaster indicating a clear improvement in exam results due to the provision of solar lighting, I can testify that this technology has significant capacity to change lives. The systems were designed with one 70Wp panel powering three lights and a socket. A lot of information was gained from this study but we are yet to apply these lessons and replicate this project in other parts of Zambia. The majority of systems are not operational due to challenges faced in the replacement of batteries after five years of use.

Future of Renewable Energies in Zambia

The framework that most countries have put in place to promote renewable energy sources in the energy mix includes the following strategies:

·                Obliging the utility to buy from renewable energy sources should they become available.
·                The setting of the tariff that an Independent Power Producer (IPP) can expect to receive from the utility based on the technology used to generate the power (known as feed-in tariffs).
·                Setting targets for how much energy in the national mix must be delivered from renewable sources by a specific target date.

It should be noted that all the above measures are policy measures and are thus the preserve of Government. The Patriotic Front manifesto clearly expresses an interest in implementing measures such as those indicated above. There is however a need for the Ministry responsible for energy to publish a clearly articulated strategy with targets for some of the potential outlined above to become reality. It is our hope that we will not sit back and end up being confronted five years from now by success stories from other countries in the region while Zambia has lagged behind.

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