Zambian energy crisis opening way to clean energy for the country and its mines

12th May 2022 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The energy crisis in Zambia had created a situation in which the country could combine increasing its electricity generation capacity with a simultaneous transition to low-carbon renewable energy sources. This was pointed out to Mining Weekly Online by Zambian State-owned group ZCCM Investments Holdings board chairperson Dolika Banda in an exclusive interview at the Mining Indaba 2022 conference in Cape Town, on Thursday.

“Our energy situation is untenable,” she affirmed. “Electricity is unreliable and power outages are frequent. Many have to use generators, which is costly. This situation is not sustainable. Zambia has traditionally been reliant on hydroelectric power, but the Kariba dam has not been adequately maintained for decades, and variable rainfall in recent years often reduces the hydroelectric generation capacity. So Zambia has no choice but to look at alternative forms of energy.”

The country had to look to ‘green energy’ options. “So the focus for the future is on renew able low-carbon sources of energy,” she said. And Zambia was now one of the very few countries which had appointed a Minister of Green Energy and the Environment.

Solar energy had already been selected to provide power for a mining project owned by Toronto Stock Exchange-listed First Quantum Minerals. Geothermal power was another alternative that the country was already looking at. But all options would be considered, such as wind power and even additional hydroelectric facilities.

Like South Africa, Zambia still had a single State-owned national electricity utility, Zesco. This was still needed because it was responsible for the country’s national grid. But mines could, and did, provide their own off-grid power. (There was also a separate electricity company that operated on the copper belt, supplying some of the mines.) The policy of the new Government in Zambia was to increase the efficiency of Zesco.

Another important environmental opportunity connected with the country’s mining sector was provided by the vast tracts of forests that existed around some of the mines. “Mining companies are already thinking of turning these into eco-forests, as carbon ‘sinks’,” explained Banda. “This would allow them to engage in carbon offsetting and carbon trading, thereby mitigating their impact regarding climate change.”