ELECTRIC AVENUE

Zambia 2017 | ENERGY & MINING | INTERVIEW

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

Hon. David Mabumba

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 is focusing on at the moment, with incentives and collaborations with the IMF and other global organizations. 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 we will need more than USD50 million per annum, and thus 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 potentials, volumes, and levels of investment. For example, Zambia could capitalize on its historical relationship with South Africa and tap into its surplus power to mitigate the effects of our crisis. We could also look 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 is the Zambia-Kenya-Tanzania transmission project (ZKT), which is expected to connect Zambia to the Ethiopian grid in the long run. The planned project to upgrade the Kafue-Livingstone transmission line to 220kV 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 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. Now, we will 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 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.