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SOLAR ENERGY DISSEMINATION IN ZAMBIA -
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE PROSPECTS

By

LANGIWE CHANDI


Executive summary

Zambia like many Sub -Saharan African Countries has a massive hydro power potential but only 18% of its population has access to grid electricity while 68% rely on biomass.  Although there is also massive potential for renewable sources of energy, these have remained largely untapped and this is demonstrated by the fact that their usage is not reflected in the Energy Statistics Bulletin.  Among Zambia’s renewable energy sources are wind, solar, water, geothermal and biomass. 

As the economy steadily declines and the national budget is unable to meet the costs of most capital projects such as the numerous rural electrification projects all around the country, renewable energy technologies provide a more economically viable option.

In Zambia, solar energy has received prime attention.  The National Energy Policy document  recognizes the untapped potential; the inhibiting factors and has also provided a sub sector policy to promote its development.  The notable achievements have been a tax rebate for the year 1994, which is being pursued again for the next budget year.  The Department of Energy also managed to provide seven photovoltaic solar systems in rural areas under the first phase of the Solar Energy Programme through the Rural Electrification fund.   While the European Union, has assisted the Ministry of Health install more than 200 solar energy systems.  Finally the Swedish Development Agency has also decided to fund a project on a pilot scheme in the rural Eastern Province of Zambia.  This project entails setting up Electricity Supply Companies (ESCO”S) to be operated by local entrepreneurs.  They have also been funding solar energy activities at UNZA including the setting up of a lab.

In January 1997, an autonomous, Energy Regulatory Board was established through Chapter 436 of the laws of Zambia.  It has the mandate to regulate the solar energy industry, which among others includes; price regulation, development and monitoring of technical standards through a license-based system.  Other Quasi Government institutions that are involved in solar energy activities are the University of Zambia.  Non Governmental Organizations include the Centre for Energy, Engineering and Environment and the newly established Solar Energy Society of Zambia.

The private sector participation in solar energy dissemination dates back to the years before the National Energy Policy was formulated.  Among the leading suppliers are: BP Solar, a subsidiary of BP Zambia LTD; Renewtech LTD, Suntech Appropriate Technologies (the only local manufacturers) and many other distributing companies.  The beneficiaries were mostly missionaries, churches, the national railways, farmers etc.  With the liberalization policy more private entrepreneurs have entered the market as distributors of solar energy systems. 

One of the major complaints of the suppliers has been the high import cost while the major complaint of consumers is the lack of back up services, spare parts and poor performance of systems.  It is envisaged that the Government initiatives and policy framework will assist in eradicating a potential hindrance to the promotion of wider use of solar energy.  It is also encouraging to note that members of parliament and other stakeholders are interested in solar energy, filling in the energy gaps where possible.

Increasing awareness level and capacity building in the country to manufacture and maintain solar energy systems are other areas of concern.   A formidable regulatory authority and performance testing centre are also essential for consumer protection, if solar energy is to improve the standards of living for those who do not have access to better forms of energy.


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