EQUAL ACCESS

Zambia 2017 | ENERGY & MINING | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Jacob John Sikazwe, Chairman & CEO of World Panel Zambia, on bringing power to rural communities, the need to diversify Zambia's energy matrix, and producing cheap energy.

Jacob John Sikazwe
BIOGRAPHY
Jacob John Sikazwe has more than 40 years of practical business experience in international corporate leadership, human Resources management including transformation, logistics, marketing, banking and empowerment programs. Prior to joining the Energy sector, he worked in various parastatal companies including National Agriculture Marketing Board and Zambia Airways, as well as for Shell and BP. He has also served as Board Chairman of Tourism Council of Zambia (TCZ) and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners for Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC) in Zambia. He is currently chairman of several boards, including Barclays Bank Zambia, Marsh Zambia, and Puma Energy Zambia.

What products does World Panel provide for the Zambian market?

In 2014, we launched our durable World Panel solar panels, devices that use renewable technology to charge mobile phones as quickly as an electrical outlet. The World Panel 500 combo-pack units with patented solar panel technology also come with a 5,000-milliampere power bank and a 10-bulb LED light. The panels, once fully charged, have enough power to charge six regular cellphones or 20 hours of light using the LED lamp. Our intention, through this product, is to increase access to energy amongst the poor people of Africa. Since we launched three years ago, we have had great sales, especially from institutions such as NGOs dealing with increasing quality of life in rural areas. From an individual perspective, few people in rural areas can afford the product and this has been one of our learning curves. While the product is designed for the rural community, socioeconomic conditions do not allow them to purchase it. We therefore entered into discussions about how to make this affordable and concluded by negotiating with the government to come under the policy of zero tax on renewable energy products. Since then, we have been able to bring prices down dramatically.

Is the product manufactured in Zambia?

We have not yet been able to produce the panels locally, although this is our eventual goal. Our panels were initially manufactured in China, even though the patent is from the US. Now, however, we have moved the product fabrication to a factory in the US. This product passes global standards. The original inventor of the product, professor John Anderson, did a great deal of research in African countries such as Uganda and Zambia, and was able to verify the quality and the efficacy of the product.

What is your view of the World Bank's Scaling Solar initiative, and its implications for Zambia's changing energy matrix?

For us as a country, it is a positive initiative. For many years, Zambia has depended on hydropower, and while this has in the past proved to be an effective source for powering the nation, we have seen how recent weather patterns have negatively impacted energy generation. Because of this, it has become crucial to think outside the box and diversify. Zambia has abundant sunshine and is an open country on a plateau. However, there is also the question of how to improve distribution channels of the captured energy from solar in order to ensure this energy reaches everyone who needs it. The majority of our population remains without access to energy. This has led to massive rural-urban migration, as people come to towns and cities in search of basic amenities they cannot access in more remote parts of the country. This, in turn, has resulted in congestion and overpopulation in Zambia's urban areas. To combat this, we should not just look at major projects, but also medium and small projects that can be set up in rural areas. With renewable energy, the initial cost appears high; however, in the long term it pays off. That is one of the things that the industry and the government need to focus on.

Is the government right to invest in large-scale projects like the Kariba Dam and Batoka Gorge hydropower plants?

Given the state of the global economy, as well as the particulars affecting Zambia, it is important that we have a balanced strategy. In terms of the medium and long term, Zambia will always benefit from abundant water, regardless of whether this is sometimes unpredictable in the short term. If we can capture this and generate enough cheap power for export, then that will exponentially improve our economic scenario. Zambia is surrounded by eight countries, the majority of whom need energy. If we can produce cheap energy and are able to link up, then our export potential will be immense. Therefore, these megaprojects will be vitally important for the economy at large.