Mini-Grid Solar Power Transforms Tanzanian Village

Mini-Grid Solar Power Transforms Tanzanian Village

Reuters report that solar power has transformed Kisiju Pwani, one of Tanzania’s poorest villages which serves as an Indian ocean port town. Now there are street lights, a night life, and improved security at the port. People can now watch television, eat out, listen to the radio and trade well into the evening. New services have also arrived including a materials and hardware store and a pharmacy.

The system is a 12KW unit which includes 32 photovoltaic panels and a bank of 120 batteries. It was  a collaboration between the University of Dar es Salaam and the University of Oslo with $430,000 funding from the Norwegian development agency, NORAD. 20 per cent of the cost was met by the villagers through land for the mini grid and security. Here is as short film showing NORAD’s co-sponsorship with Tanzania and Mexico of post 2015 energy consultations on the subject of energy in India, Mexico, Tanzania and Norway.

The system benefits half of the 3,994 villagers and provides 20 street lights, energy for 68 homes, 15 businesses, the sea port, government offices and two mosques at a cost of $6-$12 a month.

This is a fantastic venture but here’s the problem.  It is not clear whether this was ‘free’ money but the assumption is that it is. Rural electrification has been difficult to achieve in Tanzania because of the high cost of rolling it out and villagers inability to pay. This micro-project demonstrates the benefits of electrification. Businesses are attracted to the location and jobs created. Money flows creating resources for more infrastructure, attracting more businesses and more jobs and so the cycle continues. Someone with a long term vision has to lead the way though.

Off-grid power solutions like those shown in the photo from a Ugandan project, clearly have a major role to play as currently only 7 per cent of rural Tanzanians have access to electricity and that is where 80 per cent of the people live.

Image credit: Solar Electric Fund, CC BY-NC-ND