Energizing productivity in Zambia through micro-hydro technology


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Energy poverty is a serious issue in Zambia. Only 21% of the population has access to national on-grid electricity.

This average nation-wide statistic gives a skewed perspective however, as about 60% of the Zambian population live in rural areas where access to on-grid electricity is only 3.4%. The majority of Zambians depend on unsustainable biomass energy. Most Zambians cannot fulfil their productive potential because of this energy poverty.

To address this issue, SNV and Practical Action combine their resources, expertise in market-based and participatory approaches, and long experience in Zambia to establish micro and mini hydro off-grid systems to increase access to energy in poor rural areas in Zambia. This alternative technology is a small-scale hydroelectric power system that produces electricity using the natural flow of water. Introducing micro and mini hydro systems to rural areas gives off-grid communities the opportunity to accelerate their economic growth and reduce poverty levels.

SNV and Practical Action have so far conducted a prefeasibility study to identify areas in Zambia that could pilot micro or mini off-grid hydro schemes. River sites were reviewed in Northern, Muchinga and North Western provinces to identify potential areas where facilities could be developed for the energy disadvantaged to access power. On Tuesday 30th September 2014, SNV and Practical Action invited representatives from key donor and energy institutions to a presentation on the results from the Micro-Hydro Prefeasibility study which revealed 4 sites that have the potential to fulfil the technical, business and economic requirements to support a micro hydro system.

In addition to domestic power benefits, micro hydro technology also opens numerous productive and social benefits. The electricity can be used to power schools and clinics which will benefit the communities. In addition to reaching a possible 200 households through energy kiosks for domestic use, the electricity generated can also be used to power general dealer stores, rural growth centres, agro processing centres, rice processing plants, grinding mills and local markets. These market-based incentives encourage communities, private sector stakeholders and Government to invest in the technology.

SNV’s objective is to increase productivity in rural areas and will facilitate market linkages with private sector companies in order to make this a reality. SNV plans to work with the communities and key stakeholders to guide their own development and develop a sustainable, social and economic plan that will make it affordable for the communities and ensure that they fulfil their own economic potential. 

Mass enthusiasm was expressed around the technology from all the guests. SNV’s next steps in this project include:

  • Sourcing requisite funding to undertake more detailed feasibility studies and implementation of pilot micro hydro projects
  • Developing an implementation plan for a selected number of pilot projects for demonstration purposes; and,
  • Implementing pilot projects and sharing key lessons and results with key stakeholders.

“It is impossible for the national grid system to reach everyone in Zambia given the high infrastructure costs, and the size and low population density of Zambia ... We are working with the Zambian government to find alternative solutions so we can ensure last mile delivery of basic energy services.” -Dr. Sue Ellis, SNV Zambia Country Director

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Duncan Rhind

Country Director - Tanzania