TBY talks to Hon. David Mabumba, Minister of Energy of Zambia, on energy solutions, international cooperation, and nuclear development.

What has the power deficit meant for Zambia in terms of rethinking energy generation options in the country?

Between early 2015 up to October 2016, Zambia's rainfall pattern was poor, and with low water levels in many of our hydro plants, generation capacity—of which 95% comes from water sources—fell by almost 50%. Subsequently, Zambia had to begin thinking outside the box. In 2015, we started driving a campaign to diversify into renewables, working together with the World Bank and its Investment Fund Corporation (IFC) on the Scaling Solar project, as well as investing in coal, geothermal, and nuclear power. Zambia has many coal deposits dotted around the country, and, in particular, a high concentration in Sinazongwe, in the southern province. We also developed the Maamba collieries project as part of a PPP, which is using geothermal technologies to produce energy for the nation. The long-term vision is for Zambia to emerge from the power deficit stronger than before, thinking intelligently and innovatively, to embark on a path to become an eventual net exporter of power.

What is the significance of partnering with the private sector for the government's plan for energy development?

The government alone does not have the fiscal resources to invest large amounts of money directly into power solutions; therefore, it is vital to partner with the private sector, which has these resources and is adept at managing them. However, to bring these players on board we need to make sure the business environment is attractive enough, which is what the government focuses on at the moment, with incentives and collaboration with the IMF and other global organizations. One of these success stories is the Scaling Solar project, which we began in 2015, setting the target for 600MW from solar generation over the next few years. However, we have already tendered 100MW of this and have started to look at increasing our target potential. We expect our work, in partnership with Enel Green and Neoen, to seriously begin developing in 1Q2017, with a view to float the second tender for about 250MW in January 2017. It is an exciting project, a first for Zambia and, when the tariff structure with its exceptionally low rates is considered, globally significant. Many energy projects in this country have been made possible because of debt financing and grants from international partners. The budget we have raised for energy creation so far is around USD10 million. However, we estimate that to reach our target of 51% electricity penetration in rural areas totals we will need more than USD50 million per annum, and for this reason we also need to forge strong ties with external parties. Many of these, such as the EU, World Bank, and African Development Bank, have been supportive so far, and we have successfully packaged some attractive and well-planned projects in exchange for grants and concession loans.

Can renewables revolutionize energy generation and access to energy in Zambia?

If we want to industrialize the country and meet our pledge to generate 1 million jobs for Zambian people, then we need sufficient direct supply of power. For this, we need to unlock potential in hydro, coal, and nuclear. Solar energy is a complement to this. While it cannot support large-scale industrialization, it can play a vital role in unlocking the potential of rural areas, which may be 10-20 years away from accessing energy through the national grid. Off-grid solutions have revolutionized life in these communities, where people can now use energy to open small businesses and access technology, putting them in touch with the rest of the world.

What is the importance of interregional collaboration in Africa's energy future?

Regional integration is key for the energy sector because African countries have different potential, different volumes, and varying levels of investment. For example, Zambia could capitalize on its historical relationship with South Africa and tap into their surplus power in order to mitigate the effects of our crisis. We could also look to the East, where countries like Ethiopia are bounding ahead in terms of power generation. We have launched some initiatives to encourage such connectivity. One such transmission line that will connect Zambia to the East is the Zambia Kenya Tanzania transmission project (the ZKT), and it is even hoped that this grid will connect Zambia to the Ethiopian grid in the long run. The planned project to upgrade the Kafue-Livingstone transmission line to 220kV by May 2017 will bring power into Lusaka and Maamba, as well as other provinces, and will enable Zambia and its regional neighbors in the southeast to trade excess power. There is another transmission line between Zambia and Zimbabwe that is instrumental in allowing Escom to bring in much of the excess power generated in Zimbabwe, and we are also in talks with South Africa and Botswana for further possibilities opening here. Finally, we are developing transmission lines to Ethiopia and to Tanzania, and hope that in 2017 we will have the financing to complete these projects.

What are the main goals moving forward for Zambia's nuclear development in the medium term?

Our first step will be to dispel the myths surrounding nuclear energy that make countries very cautious about bringing nuclear into the mix. And for this, we must encourage education and build capacity. I hope to have created a policy and institutional framework that will allow us to bring in developers within the next five years. At the moment, we focus on our collaborations with Russia and China, though this is just a starting point to allow Zambia to set sail on its nuclear journey. We want to start thinking about the international standards we should meet to commit to nuclear in the long-term: how to manage waste, or the eventual decommissioning of facilities, among other issues. We need to be able to satisfy the international community with our assurances that nuclear generation will power our industry, fuel our economy, and boost job creation, and it is for these reasons that we want to invest in it as part of our future.