Last edited: April 2019
Zambia has a high potential for solar power and the sector is growing. Right now, Zambia mainly depends on hydropower, due to the large dams generating electricity in the country. Droughts made this electricity source less dependable and combined with the increase in electricity demand a new renewable source is desirable. The growth in solar power is therefore of great value and goes beyond just the energy sector. Access to electricity improves other sectors as well, such as the educational sector, public health sector, water sector and the food sector. Furthermore, it benefits women empowerment and it helps to adapt to climate change and mitigation. Several communities, entrepreneurs, the government and NGOs work together to increase the share of solar power in the country.
The Zambian solar sector consists of several segments. Most installations generate power with the use of solar photovoltaics (PV). Examples of the usage of these systems is mainly related to electronic devices and lighting in businesses, houses and communities. Another applications is solar water pumping, heating and cleaning of water. This is especially valuable for the agricultural sector.
The Zambian solar market is growing, although it is still relatively small in comparison with countries like Tanzania. 95% of the electricity supply in the country comes from hydropower, where less than 1% comes from other renewable sources. Since the electricity demand in Zambia is growing, there is much room for solar to grow as well. The already seen growth is mainly in the off-grid sector. This sector has a high potential, due to the low population density of the country and the low electricity access rates. This is reflected in the current percentage of solar use in rural areas compared to urban areas. Only 0.8% of the lighting systems in urban areas get their electricity from solar systems. For rural areas, this is 7.4%.
Luckily, the government is supporting the sector in its growth. At the moment, there are around 29 solar companies with a licence in Zambia. Due to the announced (private) financing opportunities, the market is expected to grown more the upcoming years. Therefore, it is very likely new solar companies will arise and access to electricity will increase.
Furthermore, the government aim for the development of 600MW on-grid solar projects in the coming 2-3 years. Part of this is the GET FiT program, which is supported by the German Development Bank. With the GET FiT program, the Zambian REFiT strategy is implemented, where 200MW of renewable energy projects are realized by supporting small and medium sized enterprises with projects up to 20MW.
Challenges of the solar sector
As mentioned before, the electricity generation in Zambia is facing challenges. Droughts make a constant power generation impossible. The use of solar seems a great solution, but this sector also has its own challenges. Although the government and private institutions announced new financing options, this still limits the growth of solar in Zambia. The high investments costs play a big role in the limitations of the sector and mainly exists for micro, small and medium enterprises involved in the renewable energy sector. Furthermore, there are inadequate standards for the off-grid sector, which can, among others, lead to the circulation of sub-standard products. Since many areas in Zambia are rural and the population densities are low, maintenance in these areas can also be a problem.