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SOLAR ENERGY IN ZAMBIA -
STATUS, PROSPECTS AND POTENTIAL

By

GIVESON ZULU


Abstract

Zambia has between 2,600 and 3,000 hours of sunshine per year with the peak occurring during October-November when temperatures of between 30-35 BC are recorded.  The average annual solar insolation is about 5.6 kWh/m2 per day.  However, new and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy largely remain untapped.

Zambia is largely self sufficient in her energy needs, except for petroleum which is the only wholly imported energy resource.  Woodfuel in the form of firewood and charcoal, is the principal source of energy in the country accounting for 68% on average of the total energy supply.  Millions of tonnes of wood are used per year causing severe deforestation in some areas of the country.  Efforts to discourage people from using Woodfuel have not been successful mainly due to lack of resources and workable alternatives.  Electricity is the second most important indigenous energy resource after Woodfuel.  However, accessibility of the majority of the population to electricity still remains low.  To provide electricity to all scattered human settlements in Zambia by means of grid extension is not practical in the foreseeable future.  However, solar PV systems can provide cost effective and reliable power for lighting, radio, TV and cottage industries.

Apart from the lack of information about the solar energy technologies among potential users, the other reason for the failure of PV and renewable energy supply has been the pricing factors.  Distortions due to taxes and fees affected fuel choices, technology choices and total energy demand.  Price distortions have led to high initial costs and a small market for RETs including PV systems.  Renewable energy projects received very little government commitment in the past.  It is believed that one of the reasons why a number of agricultural facilities and church missions have solar systems in Zambia is because donor agencies, church organizations and agro-business ventures were exempted from paying sales tax and import duties.

Rural electrification in Zambia has been undermined financially by various factors such as long transmission distances, high costs of transmission lines and associated switch gear and low power demand.  The National Energy policy recognizes the potential of New and Renewable Sources of Energy (NRSE) in meeting the energy needs of rural communities.  There are many advantages of using solar energy, major benefits accruing from the popular uses include; improvement of basic living standards of people in rural areas through the provision of clean water by water pumping, extension of day (through provision of adequate light at night), and the provision of quality health care due to availability of vaccine refrigeration.

Other major benefits include the extension of business hours thereby increasing income generation (by providing adequate lighting at night), facilitating communications through UHF and VHF radios for police and military purposes, and energy savings in telecommunication repeater stations as use of diesel for power generation was eliminated.

Promotion of solar energy technology has faced a number of barriers relating to the National Energy Policy.  If the supply of solar energy is to be enhanced and country-wide utilization realized then the various barriers to its use must be resolved.


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