Resetting Zambia’s energy sector

ABB staff explaining to a delegate some of the energy equipment that was showcased at the conference. PICTURE COURTESY OF ABB.

THE effects of climate change and drought which resulted in the reduction of water levels in the country’s main power generating dam, Kariba Dam, has seen Zambia and nations in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) rethink their dependency on hydro power.
Zambia has learnt the ‘hard way’ and has realised the importance of diversifying energy sources with renewable energy proving to be the solution to power supply challenges in future.
Solar, to be specific, has been identified as key to the energy diversification programme as it has proved to not only be affordable but also quick to execute and implement compared to conventional energy.
To this effect, Government revised the National Energy Policy to diversify the energy mix by including renewable energy and went a step further to introduce the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (REFIT) Strategy aimed at accelerating private investments in small and medium-sized renewable energy projects in Zambia.
Then minister of Energy David Mabumba said the strategy will increase the access to electricity in rural areas as well as help diversify power generation in Zambia which is highly-dependent on hydro power generation.
The minister highlighted that REFIT is one of the remedial measures put in place to reduce high poverty levels in far-flung areas as people will have the platform to venture into activities to uplift their livelihoods.
As part of Government’s effort to accelerate solar energy production, it signed a US$1.2 billion deal with the World Bank under the scaling up solar project which will bring up to 600 Mega Watts (MW) of solar energy.
Under the World Bank Group’s Scaling Solar initiative, Government through the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) engaged the International Finance Corporation (IFC) as transaction advisors for the rapid development of grid-connected utility-scale solar projects.
Although the platform for renewable energy take-off has been created, the growth of distributed energy resources such as solar panels remain key to providing uninterrupted and affordable source of energy.
Importantly, the right technology through digitalisation of energy infrastructure will create the potential to drive effective implementation and execution.
Private sector participation in this programme is, therefore, key.
Global technology manufacturer and supplier ABB has for many decades been at the core in supporting the development of technology, which will spur renewable energy as well as other forms of energy.
Notable are micro grids, decentralised electrical networks and grid technologies.
ABB, which has been unveiling various technology including integrated solar diesel micro-grid designed to maximise the use of renewable energy and ensure uninterrupted power supply says it will continue to innovate technologies that will transform the energy landscape.
The company believes that the key drivers for decentralised generation, driven largely by renewable sources like solar, wind and battery storage will render distribution grids of the future to be much more dynamic than they are today.
Penetration of growth markets like Africa and leveraging innovative technologies like micro-grids are key elements of ABB’s next level strategy to improve power reliability.
ABB president for power grids Claudio Facchin says, “Some years ago, there was an issue of affordability and reliability of renewable energy but it is not an issue anymore because advancement of technology has led to affordability.
“If you compare investment in terms of execution and implementation of a solar plant compared to a conventional 300 megawatts (MW) project, the opportunity to implement the solar in two years compared to three plus years for conventional already gives you a better pay back.”
Mr Facchin says the micro-grid provides sustainable and cost-effective power supply and minimise environmental impact.
Indeed, solar and other renewable sources of energy remain key to complementing conventional energy such as hydro thus the need to leverage the available technology.
Speaking at the recently held ABB customer World Africa 2018 conference in South Africa, Mr Facchin, however, notes that hydro energy is still viable hence the need for a balanced approach in the development of various power grid projects.
He also urges governments to put in place favourable policies that will drive the private sector to effectively participate in the projects to spur economic growth.
While government’s part is putting in place strategies that are positive, the private sector has a bigger role to play in ensuring that it provides funding and technology to unlock the potential that lies in the renewable energy sub-sector.
This is important as observed by ABB South Africa managing director Leon Viljoen who said adequate investment in renewable energy projects such as development of micro grids will accelerate access to electricity especially for rural communities.
Technology to unlock solar energy and other sources of energy has been made available, at the same time, Zambia and the entire SADC have the natural resources such as abundant sun shine, its therefore up to the countries to leverage the resources to upscale renewable energy so that it can adequately complement hydro energy.
By so doing, the glaring statistics of only four percent having access to electricity in rural Zambia will be a thing of the past.

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