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Zambia Moves to Conserve Energy

Africa's energy shortages have affected more than the countries that are the major regional economic engines, like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. The demand for electricity has also grown in Namibia and Zambia, which need more power for agriculture, mining and manufacturing. From Lusaka, Zambia, reporter Danstan Kaunda looks at the energy crisis and some steps governments are taking to deal with it.

Power blackouts are now a source of great concern to most countries in southern Africa. In Zambia, where the economy is based mainly on manufacturing and mining, production has dropped 30 percent because of blackouts. Other sectors affected are tourism and agriculture.

David Matongo says other countries in the region are facing similar problems. Matongo is the chairperson of the Committee on Energy for the Southern African Development Community.

"While the SADC governments were warned of the impending power shortages more then ten years ago," he said, "they did not take adequate steps to avert the crisis. Despite the huge energy potential in the region, most of it remains untapped. Very little was done to diversify from the conventional energy sources to abundant renewable and other non-conventional sources."

But Namibia, Zambia and other countries in the region are now investing heavily in clean energy sources such as solar, wind and gas. Zambia is building small hydro power stations at the northern town of Kalungwishi and at Kabompo Gorge in Northwestern province, bordering the DRC. Mining companies will be the main customers for these new power sources.

But will renewable energy be enough to meet southern Africa's demands for electricity?

Kuda Ndhlukula is a project coordinator for Namibia's Renewable Energy and Energy Institute.
He said renewable energy can promote long-term economic growth and self-reliance.

"Renewable energy] will not cover up this crisis," he said, "but it is one way we can utilize [electricity in the case of this power deficit]. A combination of things has to be done, to meet [the demand for electricity] by industries and [households]. We [in sub-Sahara Africa] are sitting on huge natural energy resources such as solar, wind. This is the time [to] invest. I believe in Namibia alone, we can meet demand just by using solar and wind energy sources. We are currently [assessing] offshore wind-currents before setting up a national wind energy farm."

Governments are trying a number of ways to reduce consumption.

Some have suspended duties on energy saving equipment, such as improved light bulbs and solar panels. Some are also giving incentives to conserve energy.

Monica Chisela is with Zambia's state-owned power utility, ZESCO.

She said, "We are giving an incentive for [industries] to shift their loads [production time] to off-peak -- the period between 9 pm to 5am. The incentive [includes] a 50 percent discount. Also at this time [off-peak] power is available at maximum supply so there [will be no black outs]."

The regional body regulating electricity, the Southern African Power Pool, says southern Africa needs 55,000 megawatts per h our. That's 15,00 more than the amount being supplied today.