Current state of electrification
According to both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Bank, the electricity access rate in Zambia stood at 28% in 2014. The government of Zambia’s survey in 2015 places the figure at 31%. The rate is rural areas, as in most developing countries, is much lower at 5% (World Bank) or 4.4% (Government of Zambia). This translates to at least 10 million people or 2 million households without access to electricity.
The electrification rate has increased by only 17% from 1990 to 2015. The rate of electrification in rural areas has been even slower with an increase of only 1 or 2% from 2003 – 2014.
The government plans to increase rural electrification to 51% by 2030 according to the Rural Electrification Master Plan (REMP).
- Low population density – Comparing the population density map below and the access rate graph above shows there is a strong correlation between population density and electrification rate. Low population density makes it challenging for the government to extend the central electricity grid.
- High incidence of poverty among the population – Zambia’s economy has in the last few years been negatively affected by the decrease in copper prices worldwide. Copper is Zambia’s main export and the aptly-named Copperbelt province is the main hub for copper mining. The majority of the population in the rest of the country relies on the agricultural sector for employment, especially in rural areas. The low ability to pay for electricity reduces the economic feasibility of central grid extension even further.
- Minimal private sector participation – Electrification projects in Zambia are primarily driven by the government. The Rural Electrification Agency, REA, faces challenges such as inadequate financing for electrification projects.
- Inadequate electricity supply – The central grid suffers various challenges including a shortfall of electricity supply due to inadequate hydro reserves (94% of Zambia electricity is generated from hydropower) and load shedding of up to 8 hours a day due to the shortfalls. Zambia’s total installed electricity generation capacity was 2,411 MW in 2015.
Current lighting sources
In rural areas, torches are the most common lighting source followed by solar. In urban areas, the most common source of energy for lighting is electricity with torches coming in third. Kerosene as a source of lighting is not popular with only 2% of the households relying on it for lighting in rural areas.
Lighting source by province
As would be expected, the percentage of households using electricity for lighting corresponds with the electricity access rate in each province. Torches are the most popular lighting sources in Eastern, Nothern and Luapula provinces. Interestingly, open fires are the third most common lighting sources for households in Western and North-Western provinces. The use of solar for lighting is highest in Eastern and Muchinga provinces.
In conclusion, even with the establishment of a rural electrification agency, Zambia has not made much progress with electrification. However, with the increased focus on electricity access in Sub-Saharan Africa, there has been an increase in the funds available for electrification projects. Additionally, some private companies with innovative solutions are setting up shop in Zambia to address the huge opportunity in the sector. The current players in the electricity access space in Zambia will be explored in detail in a future post.