Zambia is land-locked and provides additional challenges in off-grid rural electrification. As one of the cleanest power producers (96% of Zambian electrical power is hydro-electric), any rural power has to be renewable.
However, hydro-electricity has its downside. Recent poor rainfall (attributed by some to climate change) has led to low water levels in the hydro-electric dams, creating widespread and extensive rolling blackouts, severely disrupting business activities.
Discussions with the new Minister of Energy has promoted a shift in rural electrification from grid extension (which is not economically viable and requires the injections of free capital and on-going subsidies and furthermore will only add further strain to the unstable electrical grid) towards off-grid rural power with an emphasis on power for rural businesses (to create jobs); schools (to provide computing classes) and household power – beyond lighting and cell phone charging.
Africa Power is bringing together a consortium of companies and organisations in Zambia, including a cell phone tower maintenance company which maintains 950 diesel generators throughout Zambia and is working with companies to share networks of rural agencies. Due to the lower population densities in rural area, Africa Power’s A-B-C-d model of distributed, unconnected power systems is particularly appropriate. An initial $3m investment will leverage significant DFI grant funding, enabling operations to commence in 2017.
Klas Waldenstrom, Head of Sida’s Energy intervention in Zambia said, “Africa Power’s ABCD model was inspirational for us in setting up the “Beyond the Grid” fund for off-grid rural electrification in Zambia.”