A smart village for Zambia
The need for sustainable and reliable electricity is something we hear about regularly, but in the context of this blog post the word ‘need’ bares a more significant urgency.
I recently took on the role of Deputy Director for Social Responsibility within The University of Manchester’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, working alongside the Director, Dr Joseph Mutale. Joseph has been actively working to improve education and energy infrastructure within Zambia and neighbouring countries, and his work has been recognised by different organisations.
This new role brought me to Lusaka in Zambia, one of the fastest-developing cities in southern Africa, to conduct a one-day workshop on ‘’Smart Villages’’ as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund granted by The University of Manchester. It’s important to point out that the word ‘’smart’’ here means the provision of a reliable, sustainable and cost-effective electricity source to empower the local community and enable them to do the most basic operations, which we in developed countries take for granted every day. For example, in the context of a country like Zambia, smart villages could have a solar power source to pump water from underground wells for irrigation, lighting for reading in the evening and a ceiling or table fan to beat the blistering heat in the height of summer. It could also mean helping villages and rural communities become self-sustainable. According to the World Bank, in 2012 only 22% of Zambia’s population had access to electricity. In the UK this number is 100%! I quote Zambia as an example, but there are several countries within this region that share similar statistics.
With a large population who live within rural areas and only an estimated 3.7% of this area with access to electricity, it is critical that something is done to improve the energy infrastructure to help develop this region. For a nation rich in natural resources it is frustrating that local communities struggle to tap into the full potential of such resources due to the lack of electrical energy. Solar power and wind power can play a part in empowering local communities, providing them with something we take for granted – electricity. This is still a challenge, as there is a significant capital investment involved within developing mini-grids, which will need both monitory and technical support.
At the meeting we held at Lusaka we wanted to fully understand the needs of these local communities and discuss what they thought was essential in terms of energy supply and how they would use it. The meeting was attended by the Minister of Energy for Zambia, four chiefs from different provinces, a. We, at the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering in Manchester, will be working closely with the University of Zambia and all the local communities within the region to see how we can help in developing rural electrification and a system which is both sustainable and replicable as these villages move forward into the future. We will use our technical know-how in designing self-sustainable villages, in a bid to encourage funding bodies to invest in the idea of rural electrification and make access to electricity a reality rather than a pipe dream.