According to the estimates developed based on studies undertaken in the past, Zambia has a potential for hydropower generation of more than 6,000 MW, and only 2,398MW out of that has been developed so far. While solar and wind mapping has been undertaken in recent years, the potential of solar power is estimated at close to 1300 MW, several times more than the 100 MW currently commercially utilised. The use of wind energy is in its initial stages, but the overall potential is estimated to be about 920 MW. Based on the indigenous coal resources in Zambia, another 1300 MW of new coal-fired generation potential is estimated in the short and medium term. Geothermal resources have not been fully estimated, but projects of about 320 MW can be implemented in the country. Similarly, biomass and waste-to-energy projects of about 240 MW could be completed in Zambia (ERB, 2021).
Electricity supply in Zambia grew by 49.6% over ten years (2005 to 2015), while consumption grew by 51.31% over the same period. The total installed generation capacity is 2,981.23 MW, a large proportion (about 80%) of which comprises hydropower, and the remaining capacity includes thermal units and renewable energy plants. Since 2015/2016, Zambia has had a poor rainfall pattern (climate change impact) compared to the previous years, and hydrogenation has been severely impacted. Overall generation in 2016 in Zambia declined by about 15% compared to 2015, causing great distress among the electricity customer groups, especially domestic, mining and manufacturing customers. In 2019, the largest electricity consumer, according to the ERB Sector Report of 2019, is the mining industry, with a share of 51% (6,359 GWh) of the total energy consumption, followed by the domestic sector, which consumed 33% (4,023 GWh). The remaining sectors account for 16% (2,144 GWh). In 2018, 34% of the Zambian population had access to electricity, 69% of which were in urban areas and 8% in rural areas (Energy, 2022a; ERB, 2021; Nyoni et al, 2021).
To ensure a consistent demand and supply match, a renewables-based energy transition promises to deliver vast socio-economic benefits to countries across Africa, improving energy access, creating jobs and boosting energy security. To realise these benefits, African countries have an opportunity to leapfrog fossil fuel technologies to a more sustainable, climate-friendly power strategy aligned with the Paris Agreement and low-carbon growth. Zambia intends to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 47% by 2030. At the same time, improving energy access remains a priority, as only 43% of the population has access to electricity. The government has identified energy efficiency as a priority in the country’s nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement to meet growing energy demand. Zambia’s National Development Plan includes plans to increase geothermal, wind and solar electricity generation by 2030 (Energy, 2022b; Nyoni, 2022).
In March 2021, the government of the republic of Zambia launched a K40 million Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for the development of the electricity sector in the country, to among others, ascertain Zambia’s electricity investment needs, improve the reliability, affordability of electricity supply, reduce costs for delivering electricity services and minimise environmental and climate change impacts. The IRP process was finalised in May 2022, which proposed several capacity expansion projects (i.e., generation, transmission and distribution) to meet local and regional demand in 2026, 2030, 2040 and 2050 (Nyoni, 2022).
Therefore, this research explores the energy transition outlook for Zambia through scenario analyses which include the business as usual (BAU), integrated resource plan (IRP), and Net Zero prospects to align with agenda 2063 for Africa and considered the following research question:
- Can Zambia attain Net Zero by 2063 to align with Agenda 2063 for Africa?
- Does the proposed IRP & Net Zero aid in emissions abatement?
- What is the cost of electricity generation under the IRP and Net Zero? Is it pragmatic?
- Is the existing (2022) power system flexible?
- Under the IRP, will the system be flexible in 2030 and 2050 without additional investments?
The key indicators for scenario assessment under consideration were cost-effective generation, emissions reduction and flexibility assessment outcome.