Study of the major solar energy mini-grids initiatives in Zambia.

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kapole, felody
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The University of Zambia
The Solar mini-grid initiatives aim to provide access to electricity to rural and remote areas which are currently not connected to the national grid. However, the implementation of solar mini-grids in Zambia presents challenges and therefore understanding the success factors and challenges of these factors is crucial to ensure their sustainability and scalability. There is very little study conducted to assess their status, impact on Zambia’s energy security, financial viability and environmental sustainability. There is also no coherent single document for the information on solar mini grids in Zambia. To address this gap, this research provides a critical study of financial, technical, environmental and social sustainability of five major solar energy mini-grid initiatives in Zambia, Viz 48 kW Magodi mini-grid in Lundazi, 51.8 kW Katamanda mini-grid in Chipangali, 28.35 kW Chitandika mini-grid in Chipangali, 24.4 kW Sinda mini-grid in Sinda (all in the Eastern Province of Zambia) and 32.4 kW Chibwika mini-grid in Mwinilunga in the North Western Province of Zambia. None of the five solar mini-grids is fully sustainable financially and technically. Economic tariffs that can sustain both capital and operational expense are mostly unaffordable to the rural people due to their low-income levels. Challenges of lack of technical support, poor operations and maintenance are also major cause of unsustainability. All solar mini grids are running on an ad-hoc and/or pilot basis without a well thought out plan of operations and business model. The specific challenges facing the Zambian mini grids include (i) incorrect sizing of the mini grids during planning stage, (ii) inefficient operation of the mini grid by government agency or the community without adequate technical support, (iii) wastage of subsidies being provided to private sector without aligning it with diverse interests and expectations, (iv) ad-hoc and inappropriately structured tariff plans. For both technical and financial efficiency, involvement of private sector is cardinal. A well thought out public private partnership model for the construction, operation and maintenance of the solar mini grids is needed. In place of an up-front subsidy as being given currently, smart subsidies which should align the interests and expectations of the government, the private sector and the clients should be developed.
Master of science in physics
Solar energy--Zambia. , Rural electrification--Zambia. , Rural electrification--Solar energy.