The Zambezi River is the major hydropower resource in southern Africa. Zambia’s territory occupies a larger area of the river basin, at 41 per cent, than any of the other seven riparian nations.
With the completion of the upgraded Lunzua station (14.8 MW) in November 2014, Zambia reached 2,257 MW of installed hydropower capacity, which represents 94 per cent of the nation’s total energy mix.
Sustained economic growth in Zambia has meant that the need for clean and renewable energy is more critical than ever.
With an electrification rate of only 25 per cent and demand for electricity continuing to rise at a rate of between 150 and 200 MW each year, the development of more than 6,000 MW of untapped hydropower resources remains a priority for the country.
Climate variability has also posed new challenges for the sector in Zambia. In March 2015, a prolonged period of drought resulted in lower water levels at the Kariba Dam, a binational facility managed in co-operation with Zimbabwe.
Generational capacity was estimated to have decreased temporarily by around 300 MW, prompting power rationing as an interim solution.
Another area of development has been in the proposed upgrades to existing infrastructure. Preeminent in this regard, the Kariba Dam Rehabilitation Project was launched last year.
Essential to the facility’s continued safe operation, over the next ten years this USD 294 million scheme will reshape the pool under the dam to limit erosion and refurbish the spillways to improve operations and structural stability.
Energy policy has also progressed in Zambia with the aim of enabling both public and private investors to contribute more effectively to the renewable energy sector. The Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariff (REFIT) policy is the result of in-depth consultation between USAID’s Trade Hub for Southern Africa and the Zambian government.
It will enable the government to purchase renewable energy at predetermined costs, reducing price volatility and attracting significant private sector investment to hydropower schemes.
In the last decade, gains to installed capacity have been achieved primarily through upgrades and extensions to existing infrastructure. However, in the next five years, these are set to be more than matched by new projects, with the Zambian government predicting an increase of 1,172 MW by 2019.
ZESCO’s Itezhi Tezhi project (120 MW) is due to be completed later in 2015, while Lunsemfwa Hydro Power Company concluded feasibility studies for its Muchinga facility (200 MW) in November 2014. Copperbelt Energy also began feasibility studies in 2014 to develop a major hydropower station on the Luapula River (800 MW).
Looking forward, efforts to implement the USD 2 billion Lower Kafue Gorge project (750 MW) are at the energy performance certificate procurement stage, with construction expected to start in the first half of 2016.
The private sector is also active in project development. The Kalungwishi hydroelectric project has reached advanced preparatory levels. This 247 MW, USD 700 million project on the Kalungwishi river is being implemented by the Lunzua Power Authority.
Another key development in the pipeline is the Batoka Gorge project, for which the feasibility study and environmental and social impact assessments are already under way. A major run-of-river scheme managed by the Zambezi River Authority, the USD 2.5 billion project is expected to bring 2,400 MW of installed capacity to Zambia and Zimbabwe to meet the sharply rising demand for energy in the region.
This country profile is featured in the 2017 Hydropower Status Report. You can download the full report here.
This profile was last updated in August 2015.