Our Environment, Our Responsibility

Transitioning Youth in Realizing Renewable energy in Zambia

Innovative, Agents of change, and industrious – these words essentially sum up today’s youths. Young people when productive can be an asset to their communities, at District national, regional and international level. It is imperative that structures be generated to ensure sustainable employment and sustainable environments for young people. In Zambia, the current demography is characterised as youthful as those aged between 15-35 years constitute over 74% of the population and youth unemployment is at 16% (CSO, 2020).[1]Young adults must have meaningful opportunities in order to build strong economic and sustainable communities. Therefore, entrepreneurial, advocacy and innovation opportunities must be created that empowers youth to be the next generation of advancing sustainable renewable energy for all to better the lives of their communities into green and clean spaces.
Sustainable Development Goal 7, focuses on affordable and clean energy. According to the Energy Report, only 25% (22% in urban areas and rural areas) of the Zambian population have access to electricity and over 80% still depend on biomass energy (mainly charcoal and firewood) for cooking and heating. This has contributed to a large scale of deforestation.[2] Therefore, youths can use this energy deficit to tap into entrepreneurial opportunities for Renewable Energy.
Zambia is one of the United Nations member states that adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, as a universal action to end poverty, protect the planet and promote peace and prosperity by 2030. As in any meaningful discussion, there cannot be any country that can talk about development without advancing the plights of the youths. Civil Society Organizations are providing the much needed driving force of advancing the developmental agenda by advocating for youth participation in the implementing of national and international goals such as the SDGs 2030 and youth agenda 2063. A good example of how youths are participating in national development can be drawn from the #Sustanable #Renewable #Energy for #Communities in #Zambia Project which is a flagship project in partnership with #WWFZambia and #CentreforEnvironmentJustice with a goal of greater knowledge and support on renewables in Zambia among the communities in Luangwa and Lusaka District of Zambia where the Youth have played a critical role in ensuring that the much needed messages of low knowledge on the use and knowledge of renewables has been improved to curb issues of climate change disasters arising from deforestation and the lack of a free flowing of the Zambezi and Luangwa river.
During the project implementation it was observed that collaboration between various stakeholders, government, Civil Society Organizations a lot can be achieved in addressing climate disasters and the low knowledge gap that exist in communities as many perpetrators of issues like deforestation lack convincing knowledge of why they should stop the trend of cutting down of trees in forests. During the baseline study conducted in Luangwa District by the Centre for Environment Justice team it was regrettable for one of the traditional leaders to avoid having a conversation with the data collectors simply because he was rushing to inspect a charcoal production project deep in the forest and gave quite an insightful excuse to the team by stating that those in the city are the ones to blame when it comes to the consumption of charcoal as they are the ones demanding for the commodity. That statement from the traditional leader left the CEJ team with only one conclusion that to arrest the issues of deforestation it will require addressing matters on both the buyers and the sellers but there seem to be some connection of utilising alternative energy technologies to replace the dirty technology with clean one. In addition to this, it is also evident the fight for climate change is not just an environmental issue but also an economic issue as peoples livelihood greatly depend on such vices and therefore it needs a realistic pragmatic shift to address the problem from its root other than a casual and theoretical approach.
There are many challenges that affect youths from advocating for Knowledge in the renewable energy industry in Zambia. Most notable ones include the following
Lack of Persuasive and Advocacy Skills
There is lack of mentors to enable Youths advocate for the much needed knowledge to improve uptake of renewables by most citizens in the country. There is a lack of accessible and affordable education or training that is relevant, high-quality and meets the needs of industry, especially in rural areas. Many African countries are hampered by a widespread shortage of qualified STEM Trainers and educators as well as (civil, mechanical and electrical) and technicians. An extensive shortage of qualified trainers with these skills has also been identified.
A large proportion of educated youth are trained as auditors, lawyers or finance specialists but they lack the business and leadership skills (such as innovation, strategic planning and communication) needed to further develop the sector.
There is further lack of awareness among youth about opportunities in the clean energy sector and no established pipeline for recruitment.
Weak Linkages of National Policies to Addressing Real Challenges on the Ground
Like in many other sectors in the country’s economic agenda, there seem to be low enforcement of existing laws that governs in this case increased access to sustainable, affordable and durable renewable energy technology infrastructure as well as stringent importation laws and regulations around deployment of sources of renewable energy. It was regrettable during the implementation of the #SRE project in Luangwa as it was observed that actually there is high deployment of such SR Technologies but there seem to be low standard of most equipment installed in the area [7]. Some of the installed facilities that seemed to have failed the communities confidence in appreciating renewable energy includes a project installed at Kavalamanja Village were a hydro turbine machine was not properly installed on the water surfaces of the Zambezi river as some debris was affecting the turning of the water turbine thereby affecting generation of electricity. Moreover, the battery facility installed at the same village seem to have been under charged with the roof top solar facility and the water turbine technology itself (Hybrid) therefore resulting in reduced lifespan of the much expensive Lithium ion batteries. Another example of a failed project that was identified in the field is a Mini grid facility at Luangwa bridge community that despite being funded by an international funding agency, the contractor failed to start the project owing to it being under costed. This was even after part of the construction equipment being partly procured by the said contractor which could not even be tracked by any policy and regulatory authorities responsible resulting to the village not benefiting from the much needed resource.
Research and Development in Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs)
There is a lack of funding for research initiative and support in learning institutions such as schools and universities in the country . Unlike other sectors of the Zambian economy, few initiatives exist for awareness raising and information dissemination of RETs. Dissemination of RETs is also hindered by inadequate policy, poor integration of renewable energy in development plans, education curriculum and inadequate commitment to effective policy implementation.[4]
Lack of Renewable Energy Businesses Incubation Programs
Arguably one of the top agenda that is affecting youth business participation in scaling up renewable energy projects in communities. During our various interaction with biomass and solar energy for cooking technology companies such as Green Fire Blocks, Solar Treasures Limited and Green Charcoal Briquettes it was evident that the lack of understanding on how to implement sustainable business model to deploy their solutions remained one the greatest challenges for access to financing and ensuring to make their products affordable to clients. This was simply because many of them had strong technical knowledge of how to develop the product and access demand to markets but their solutions where either too high in cost of production and therefore not affordable to many.
In conclusion, to transition the youths to be better advocate of Sustainable Renewable Energy in Zambia calls for consented efforts from policy, traditional leaders, private sector, Civil society, Financing and communities to be more on being action oriented as compared to be defensive and apprehensive as such cant help in arresting the many drastic indicators of poor implementation and harmonisation of conflicting elements of economic and environmental goals. To achieve this, there is need for more multi actor partnerships such as the one being implemented by #WWFZambia country office and the #CentreforEnvironmentJustice to enhance change with actionable interventions that will not just guarantee economic security but also sustainable use of natural resources. Such initiative comes with a need for greater efforts and sometimes going outside certain traditional boundaries to ensure that an ultimate goal at the end is realised living communities better for the youths and other citizens to live in harmony with the environment sustainably. Finally, Trainings by all stakeholders to gain an understanding of why energy remains a key proponent of any development either in the health, Agriculture or Educational sector is vital as without adequate knowledge of the importance of energy as an enabler of the achievement of almost all the Sustainable Development Goals, stakeholders will not posses the right knowledge of ensuring prosperity, equitable distribution of wealth and resources and women empowerment agenda for communities in Zambia.
[1] Central Statistics Office 2020, Zambia. [2] Energy Report, Promoting Sustainable Energy: Policy and Community Engagement. Centre for Environment Justice, 2017. [3] Youth Opportunities in the Clean Energy Sector, 2019. Energy and Environment Partnership Africa. [4] Promoting Renewable Energy Technologies for Rural Development in Africa: Experiences of Zambia,2008. Journal of Human Ecology. [6] Promoting Renewable Energy Technologies for Rural Development in Africa: Experiences of Zambia,2008.Journal of Human Ecology.
[7] SRE Baseline survey Report CEJ.