Momentum grows for solar-diesel hybrid microgrids in Zambia

21st June 2016 By: Anine Kilian - Contributing Editor Online

Johannesburg ( – Amid an ongoing drought that has resulted in a severe power crisis in Zambia, the framework conditions for investment in solar power projects have become more attractive.

New analysis ‘Power crisis and consequences for solar energy in the Zambian mining sector’ published by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and energy consultants THEnergy points out that the electricity challenges in Zambia, which is heavily reliant on hydropower, have resulted in the country implementing emergency measures at high costs to close the gap between electricity generation and consumption.

The mining industry is the biggest consumer of electricity in Zambia and is suffering greatly, as production is impaired by load-shedding and power outages. The country Electricity rates for miners had been raised to $0.10/kWh, with further increases expected, as standby diesel gensets are being used to generate baseload electricity.

According to the analysis, a recent solar tender by the Industrial Development Corporation of Zambia for two 50 MW solar power plants caught the attention of the local mining industry.

The best offer was at $0.06/kWh, which was a significantly lower price than Zambia paid for emergency solar power or mining companies paid for either grid or diesel electricity.

“The recent photovoltaic tender comes at the right time. It shows what development solar energy has made in the past few years; $0.06/kWh is competitive with any kind of conventional energy, especially in a region that suffers from a lack of peak power during the day,” said THEnergy founder Thomas Hillig.

The analysis also showed that local solar-diesel hybrid microgrids had become an interesting alternative, which had advantages beyond price.

It allowed for a robust power supply in offgrid or weakgrid areas, where the grid sometimes had severe reliability issues. In microgrids, solar power, grid electricity and diesel back-up power could be integrated.