LUSAKA, March 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Zambia is
attempting to convert the nation to energy-saving light emitting
diode (LED) lightbulbs to help plug crippling power shortages
that have hit mining and agriculture and imposed daily rationing
on parts of the country.
If all homes and industries switch to the longer-lasting
bulbs, the country could save up to 200 megawatts of electricity
annually - about 30 percent of its power deficit - according to
the state-owned Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO).
The company is planning to distribute 5 million free LED
bulbs by June in exchange for conventional ones, at a cost of
$20 million. The aim is to replace every incandescent bulb in
"With such initiative, we are going to save a lot of energy.
Just imagine moving from 40 watts energy consumption for an
ordinary bulb to ... only 5 watts for LEDs," Thomas Sinkamba,
manager of the LEDs roll-out at ZESCO, told the Thomson Reuters
So far, 3 million of the low-energy bulbs have been bought
for $5 million, ZESCO senior manager Bessie Banda said.
The government in January banned the manufacture, sale and
import of energy-hungry incandescent lightbulbs and several
other inefficient devices.
It has also lifted import taxes on LED bulbs, solar panels
and other energy-saving equipment, while imposing taxes on
inefficient electrical devices.
Rozaia Mapika, a 53-year old a meat seller living in Lusaka,
who received six LED bulbs free in December under the government
scheme, said the new lightbulbs have cut her monthly electricity
"We used to spend 300 Zambian kwacha ($30) monthly on
electricity (for) household use," said Mapika, who uses
electricity for cooking, heating and lighting.
"Now, we are not exceeding more than 240 ZMW ($25) per
month," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Some people, however, are concerned about the safe disposal
of long-lasting LED bulbs and their impact on people's health.
"(LED lightbulbs) contain mercury which is highly toxic even
in small doses," said Robert Chimambo a board member for the
Zambia Climate Change Network.
The LED bulbs are more expensive to buy than conventional
bulbs, costing $5 compared to $1.5. But they last six times
longer, promoters said.
Providing the bulbs free of charge is key to driving the
switchover in a country where about 65 percent of the population
live on less than $1.90 a day.
POWERING A NATION
The country's electricity demand in the last five years has
risen to 1,800 megawatts, up from 1,600 megawatts, as more areas
have been electrified, putting increased pressure on the
national electricity grid, according ZESCO.
The rising demand, coupled with two years of drought that
lowered water levels in the country's hydroelectric dams, have
led to the country's power shortages.
Electricity from the national grid has been rationed for up
to six hours a day in parts of the country as a way to cushion
"Increased economic activities and (not enough) rainfall
have severely impacted the power deficit," Sinkamba said.
Insufficient investment in electricity generation has also
worsened the country's power deficits, the ministry of finance
said in November.
The demand for power is likely to grow, as the government
attempts to roll out electricity supplies to more people.
More than two thirds of Zambia's 15.5 million people have no
access to any power, according to USAID, the U.S. government's
aid agency, which is working with Zambia to help improve its
Justine Mukosa, a manager at the government's Rural
Electrification Authority, said that as demand for power
increases nationally, other energy sources will be needed to
reduce pressure on the national grid.
"We need to intensify other energy sources like solar
mini-grid, wind energy and others," Mukosa said.
($1 = 9.5499 Zambian Kwacha)
(Reporting by Danstan Kaunda; Editing by Alex Whiting.; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.