By the Blouin News Business staff

Over-reliance on hydro dries up Zambia mining

by in Africa.

Zambiua's Kariba Dam. (Source: Joe McKenna/flickr)

Zambia’s Kariba Dam. (Source: Joe McKenna/flickr)

by Michael Lerner

Zambia’s Copperbelt Mining Trade Expo and Conference will take place on Thursday and Friday. There will be free workshops on innovation in the industry, helping firms prepare for the expected revival of the country’s mining industry over the next 18-24 months. However, in order for mining to make a comeback, there is one key prerequisite: a reliable supply of electricity.

Hydropower normally would account for 95% of Zambia’s electricity. But climate change, exacerbated by el Niño, has struck Zambia hard with drought. For instance, production at Kariba Dam, which usually generates more than 40% of the nation’s power and enables electricity exports to neighboring countries, has fallen to about a quarter of capacity. Africa is expected to warm faster than the global average during this century, so these droughts might become more frequent.

The daily 8-hour blackouts since last July have crippled the economy and paralyzed the single largest consumer of electricity: the mining sector.

Last week, though, President Edgar Lungu said Zambia is on course to transform the current power deficit into a surplus and make the country a net exporter of energy again within 18 months. Commissioning a $200 million, 100MW solar project, he said “The difficult realities of climate change have taught us that over-reliance on hydropower won’t just do. I am here to promise you that we shall continue to walk-the-talk in every way possible.”

In the 2015 BCLS panel Sustainable Solutions to the Global Energy Crisis, Thomas Mason stressed that while decarbonizing the economies of the developed world is important, the real challenge lies within the developing world, which is both growing in population and energy use per-capita. Zambia is the first country in Africa to implement the “Scaling Solar model,” with 48 firms bidding on the 100MW project. It will be part of a larger 600MW solar project costing $1.2 billion. Even within renewable energy, then, the best approach is diversification.