There are many reasons that can be attributed to the current energy crisis in Zambia that has resulted in load-shedding for eight hours a day in urban areas and up to twenty hours in rural areas: lack of effective planning by successive governments; over reliance on hydro-electricity; climate change leading to a reduction in rain levels.
So what impact does this have on communities, particularly those in rural Zambia where ninety-six percent of people are not connected to the grid and the seventy percent of people in Lusaka who live in low-income households within the compounds, and what is being done to try and tackle the issue of access to energy?
One of the main results of this crisis is that the poorest people are paying more to have their basic needs met – essentially a ‘poverty tax’ has been created. One company addressing this issue is Vitalite Zambia. A social enterprise based in Lusaka that distributes renewable, household energy products and services that are appropriate, acceptable and affordable to these under-served markets.
I’ve been living in Lusaka for just over two weeks and working with Vitalite for just over one. It’s been fascinating to hear about the model of energy provision they are trying to establish here in Zambia following huge successes in Kenya by M-KOPA. Offering a pay-as-you-go solar home system, that can power solar lamps, a radio, internet modems and soon TVs, to those in low-income households provides an accessible and appropriate – given the amount of sunlight – alternative energy solution.
As well as accessible and appropriate it is, most importantly, affordable. Customers can purchase the system for a one-off amount or they can pay a commitment fee before paying off the remaining balance over an eighteen or twenty-four-month period topping up their balance via mobile money, making life easier for customers. Not only does this provide access to energy but it also creates a credit history for those who buy on pay-as-you-go, which could mean access to further finance in the future.
Not only do Vitalite offer the solar home system but they also carry out Energy Entrepreneur Training for local community groups and business owners, again in the low-income compounds. Educating participants on what it means to be an entrepreneur, how to sell and market products and how to keep their finances in order, it provides a tool-kit that allows participants to become self-employed. Participants can also become registered re-sellers and earn commission on products they sell. With at least forty percent of participants required to be women, this programme empowers the women to develop new skills and gain new knowledge.
It’s great to see a social enterprise driving change in an energy market that is desperately in need of diversification whilst at the same time empowering women to become entrepreneurs.