Team Explores Energy Access in Zambia from the Ground Up

January 28, 2020

Bass Connections team members in Zambia.
Bass Connections team members and partners hold a discussion in Zambia. (Photo: Courtesy of the Energy Access Project)

In this large southern African country, off-grid energy companies know there is widespread demand for their services. However, they struggle to identify the best locations for expansion, and many communities still lack access to electricity—a key barrier to jobs, quality of life and economic growth.

A Bass Connections project team set out to understand the energy access problem and potential solutions from the perspectives of people dealing with it first-hand. Through two trips to Zambia, team members built relationships with key players in the sector. They also visited a wide range of communities and went door to door to understand residents’ energy needs and habits.

Back on campus, they created an open-source geospatial model to help project developers and system planners identify location-specific assets, opportunities and barriers for expanding access to energy. Users can apply filters, add custom data layers, examine customers’ willingness and ability to pay for services and identify the most appropriate sites for off-grid electrification based on individualized criteria.

Team members also produced an overview of the Zambian off-grid ecosystem including important stakeholders, financing and assistance platforms and market barriers.

Three Nicholas School master’s students are moving forward on one aspect of this work, teaming up with energy services company Standard Microgrid to understand the types of small businesses that are critical to anchoring electricity demand and spurring development in Zambian microgrid communities.

A student-produced video documented the team’s experience in the field in Zambia.

About the Energy Access Project

Duke University launched the Energy Access Project to develop new, collaborative ways to meet the energy needs of some of the world’s most disadvantaged communities, without exacerbating climate change. Key Duke collaborators include the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Duke University Energy Initiative, the Sanford School of Public Policy, Bass Connections and the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Last year, the Energy Access Project supported Bass Connections project teams to assess challenges to energy access in Zambia and to combine satellite imagery and deep learning techniques to generate maps of electric power grid networks. This year, two teams are tackling the energy access challenge by:

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