Solar powered Zambia.

There are many reason why I am kicking off this section with an article on Solar Energy. One of them is the recent signing of a MoU with a Russian company to build an Atomic Power plant in this country; another is my own frustration at not being able to connect my Solar Power Wagons to the grid to reduce my electricity bills (when they are not being used for other uses like cutting and baling hay) but I think the main one is because, ever since the crisis of low water in Kariba and Kafue power, I have wanted to discuss Solar Power with the powers that be in ZESCO and the ERB and I have never yet been granted an opportunity.

Zambia is blessed with considerable hydro-electric power – both existing power stations and the potential to develop considerably more. The drought (which left both Kariba and Kafue seriously short of generating water and the severity of which may have been caused by a changing climate) may have caused those same powers to look around for alternatives: thus the MoU for an atomic plant.

Yet Zambia is also blessed with enormous Solar potential – a potential that we have been woefully negligent in developing. The main reason is that we have been spoilt by (until that drought) an abundance of cheap electricity. A second reason is of course the problem of storing that Solar power for use at night or during cloudy weather. The most common solution (and the one that most of us have installed at domestic level) is to use batteries and an inverter. But batteries are not only expensive, they are also the least durable part of the system and need replacing at fairly regular intervals – often much sooner than was claimed by the manufacturer.

Blessed, as we are, by both an abundance of Sunshine and a significant amount of hydro-electric capacity, we actually do not need to use batteries at all. We could, quite literally, run the country on Solar by day and Hydro at night. Countries like Germany and the UK have to build pumped storage schemes in which they pump water up to the top of a mountain whenever there is a surplus of power in the system; then, when the demand for power exceeds the amount available they can let the water fall through generators to the bottom of the mountain to generate the extra power that is needed. Zambia doesn’t have to do ANY pumping! When there is an abundance of Solar power ZESCO can reduce the amount of power generated at the hydro-power stations; our rivers can then replenish the reservoirs for use later. This could be later that night; later in the week – Sunday’s sunshine can power Wednesday’s peak demand; or even later in the season – September’s sunshine can power February’s grey gloom.

It is true that work has started on one or two Solar Farms in Zambia – but this work has only just begun (two years after the power crisis began) and I will argue, in another article, that Solar Farms are NOT the best way forward.

The fact that both the MoU for the Atomic plant and the contract for these two Solar Farms can have been signed without any significant debate in Zambia, either in parliament, in the newspapers or to any significant extent in any corner of civil society, is one of the reasons why we felt it necessary to create this website, which, we hope, will create a space in which such issues can be discussed; ideas can be put forward and, eventually, a policy adopted that is likely to deliver the best solutions to our most pressing problems.

Bruce Danckwerts Choma

Watch our eZuba Solar Power Wagon video.