Zambia's Kariba dam—world’s largest made by man— drying up: 10 brain-twisting facts about Africa’s energy use

They are not quite what you expect -- an African country that meets 100% of its energy needs from coal?

ZAMBIA has for years been a favourite of investors based on its political stability, but sometimes, like at the present, the environment weighs in, reminding us who’s really king.

The southern African country will in October and November enter its hottest months, further compounding a drought that has seen water levels at its Lake Kariba dam, the world’s largest man-made reservoir, drain steeply, to immense alarm.

The reservoir, which sits astride its border with Zimbabwe, supplies 1,800 megawatts of power at peak capacity. But last month, the dam was only 40% full, itself less than half what levels were one year ago, according to a Bloomberg news wire report.

The resulting damage has been major: households struggle with load-shedding that stretches up to eight hours, while mining companies have been asked to curb demand by at least a third, hurting an industry that accounts for 12% of the Zambian economy and which has seen prices and demand for its mainstay copper take the plunge.

The dam’s low levels is also bad news for struggling Zimbabwe, highlighting the importance of energy to Africa’s growing economy, where despite frantic efforts over 500 million Africans are still expected to be left off-grid.

Mail & Guardian Africa looked at a few more facts about Africa’s energy use:

1: Zambia’s discomfort is acute for the reason that 99.65% of its energy comes from hydropower, the highest dependence in Africa after Mozambique, which relies on dams for 99.88% of its energy, according to the World Bank. But with Mozambique set to become Africa’s biggest producer of natural gas in coming years, Zambia will soon become the most dependent, unless it can also find alternatives.

2: Algeria is the country that produces the highest proportion of its energy from natural gas—92.4% in 2012, according to the International Energy Agency. Nigeria, which produces 50% of its electricity from gas, Egypt (75%), Ivory Coast (67.5%) and Gabon (40.5%) round out the top five. Globally, Bahrain, Qatar and Turkmenistan meet completely all of their energy needs from gas.

3: Oil is increasingly getting a bad name, but it has been a mainstay for Eritrea, which generates 99.4% of its energy from the fossil fuel—the highest proportion globally.

4: An Eritrean consumes the lowest energy of any nationality globally—an American consumes 55 times more, and a citizen of Qatar, one of many popular destinations for its migrants, uses 135 times more energy than an Eritrean over the course of a year.

5: Another fossil fuel that has a smoky reputation is coal. But for Botswana, which has an estimated 35 billion tonnes of the resource, (the government puts it at 212 billion tonnes), it is critical—100% of its energy needs come from coal—the highest proportion globally. South Africa, the second highest on the continent, derives about 94% of its power from coal.

6: But Botwana has the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per unit energy use—in 2012 it wrung $13.8 from a kilogramme of oil equivalent, making it the the most efficient in Africa, and fifth most efficient globally. Globally, Hong Kong is the most efficient, getting $24.6 from the same quantity.

7: The DR Congo is the least efficient, managing only $2.2 of GDP per unit energy use, ahead of Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Mozambique (all $2.5).

8: As would be expected, South Africa is Africa’s largest producer of energy, at 163 million tonnes of oil equivalent (the amount of energy released by burning one tonne of crude oil), placing it 17th in the world. Algeria (146 million tonnes of oil equivalent) and Egypt (88 million tonnes) are the only other African countries ranked among the top 30—a list headed by China.

9: South Africa is also Africa’s largest consumer of energy, according to the World Bank, consuming 141 million tonnes of oil—China, its largest trading partner and the global leader, consumes 20 times more energy. Nigeria consumers 118 million tonnes of oil equivalent, ahead of Egypt’s 78 million tonnes of oil uptake.

10: African countries make up three of the top five lowest net importers of energy—and as expected, all three are crude producers: Republic of Congo, Gabon and Angola. Put differently, they export all of it and tap renewables instead—the Congo produces just 0.7% of its electricity from oil, but 60% from hydro, whlle Angola’s dam power is 70% of its energy mix.   

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