For millions of Zambia’s rural residents, a lack of access to electricity creates a litany of daily challenges. From children who can’t do schoolwork in the evenings, to family providers that direct a large portion of their meagre earnings toward kerosene, candles and other alternative forms of lighting, electricity access has a profound impact on daily life.
Having identified access-to-electricity as a key metric for poverty-reduction, Zambia’s government has endeavoured to strengthen policies and institutions to advance rural electrification, and established the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) in 2003. While rural electrification currently stands at just 3.1% according to the World Bank, Zambian authorities are targeting a long-term rural household electrification rate of 66% (90% in urban areas, 50% in rural).
Due to the high cost of grid extension projects, one of the most viable strategies for achieving this goal is solar power. With abundant sunshine measuring between 2000-3000 hours annually, Zambia is in a unique position to be able to harness the sun’s power, as opposed to countries like the Netherlands, with less sunshine per annum but thriving solar power sectors.
Although Zambia’s solar sector is still in its infancy, leaders in both the public and private sectors are beginning to recognize the vast potential of solar to improve lives. Muhanya Solar, operational since 2005, is one of the contractors working with both the REA and international NGOs to successfully implement a wide range of solar projects, from mini-grids to solar water pumps and household systems. Geoffrey Kaila, Managing Director, is passionate about increasing awareness for solar technologies. “I want people to become aware that there are cleaner sources of energy as opposed to the traditional sources we’re currently using. If more people are aware, it will improve lives and our economy.”
Yona Miti, a father of four from Chipata, bought a solar light in 2012. A farmer living on less than 1.5 Euros per day, Miti used to spend almost two Euros a week on candles to light his home. He’s now able to purchase meat for his family to improve their diets, and notes the impact solar has had on study habits. “Buying candles to be used when studying would be expensive so my child would study during the day so that we didn’t spend a lot of money on candles. Now, my child can study at night.” For people like Yona Miti, solar has made all the difference. For millions more, it’s only a matter of time.