Thursday, 3 October 2019

A Look At Zambia's Quest For Alternative Energy

Mr Nkhuwa (middle) at the site
By Kanchele Kanchele
Zambia's over dependence on hydro electricity has in the recent past been a catalyst for the slowed down economic growth and as the effects associated with climate change hits the country, the energy sector suffers immensely.
The first signs that the country needed to find quick solutions to its over dependence on hydro electricity came to the fore in July of 2015. The Kariba Dam, the largest man made water reservoir in the world was hit by low water levels as the country received less than normal rainfall. The Kariba Dam is where the country generates over 80% of its power supply for both industrial and domestic use.
 To manage the crisis, the power utility embarked on power rationing of up 12 hours, a move never seen before in a country with a history of abundance of energy. When the rains were normal in 2016 and the Dam returned its normal water levels, the sense of urgency to find solutions to the crisis seen in yesteryears was somewhat shelved as it became business as usual for those charged with the responsibility to find other energy sources.
Fast forward to 2019, the country is faced with the same crisis and it's back to square one as government officials try to fix the situation by rationing power by 12 or more hours. Unfortunately,  the reduced hydro power generation and the rationing of power provision has led to an unprecedented wanton cutting of trees for charcoal production and hence worsening the climatic change impacts.
Adding to this fact is the ever increasing demand for energy at both domestic and industrial levels. At domestic level, the number of houses connected to the main grid has drastically increased as more and more households get connected including the growing number of small scale businesses such as metal fabrication and barbershops. Just recently, the power utility celebrated the milestone of reaching its 1 millionth customer with a celebratory cocktail party.
In the background of all this, is a company working to be part of the solution to future energy challenges to a country with a growing demand for energy at both industrial and household level. While most of the country's stakeholders view the current situation as a challenge, Kalahari Geo Energy has seen this as an opportunity to stamp its mark on the country's energy sector and has quietly been working on a lasting solution.
The company has gone in an unfamiliar territory with regards the country's energy sector. It has gone into the rare field of Geothermal Energy and has quietly done its homework on the possibilities of having such a rare source of energy in the country, the first of its kind in the southern half of the continent and second only to Kenya in the continent.
Geothermal energy is not only a rare source of energy in the continent but it fits well with the current trends world over of producing environmentally friendly, clean, renewable and eco-friendly energy in order to mitigate the production of greenhouse gases as the world tries to contain climate change.
 Browsing the internet, the quickest way to research shows that Geothermal power plants emit close to zero greenhouse gases in the world's atmosphere and are extremely eco-friendly. Geothermal energy is ranked among some of the most efficient in cooling and heating systems available today. Further Geothermal energy is generally considered environmentally friendly and does not cause significant amounts of pollution. Harnessing geothermal energy does not involve any fuels, which means less cost fluctuations and stable electricity prices.
Zambia's Energy Minister Mr Mathew Nkhuwa became the first Cabinet Minister to visit Bweengwa Geothermal project when he toured the project site in September 2019.
Explaining the project to Mr. Nkhuwa, Kalahari Geo Energy Director Dr Moses Banda said the Bweengwa River Geothermal Resource Area contains compelling evidence of the three key elements required for hosting a hydrothermal system: temperature, permeability and water.
He adds "evidence for minimum reservoir temperatures of 130 Degrees Celsius is provided by both fluid chemistry and already-drilled temperature gradient holes. Permeability is confirmed by the discharge of the hot springs along the regional bounding fault and the associated geologic structures. The reservoir is in fractured basement rocks within or adjacent to the basin-bounding fault. The source of water is local meteoric water that is plentiful."
Further Dr Banda explained that so far the company has reached temperatures of  has reached temperature of 110 degrees Celsius and is hopeful that it will reach the anticipated 130 to 150 degrees Celsius temperatures before the onset of the rains as they break off due to the weather which does not allow them to continue drilling as the area is a mush land.
"We have spent in excess of $7.5 million so far and that amount will increase to $10million by the time we set up a pilot plant. We are projecting that we would be able to set up a pilot power generation plant by next year and that will lead us in to completing the project in 2021."
Asked to state the amount of power which will be produced at the plant, Dr Banda explained that the answer will only be certain when drilling is completed but that he can only give a projection of around 15-90MW.
Geothermal energy generation comes with benefits to areas closer to the power generation plant. In this case Bweengwa in Monze District will greatly benefit from the direct applications which will come with the power generation plant.
Dr Banda told the Minister’s delegation that whilst his company will concentrate on power generation it will endeavor to support other interested parties in the development and usage of the geothermal direct applications and that to that end it has engaged the Zambia Development Agency with a view of establishing an Industrial Park, as an instrument, which could maximize the accrual of benefits to the surrounding communities.
Impressed with the project, Mr Nkhuwa could not wait to ask for a quick completion of the project.
He noted the importance of the project to the country in its quest to reduce the power shortages as well as to the people of Monze who stands to directly benefit from the project’s direct applications which is envisaged to create hundreds of jobs.

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