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Sun goes beyond turning on light bulbs in Tanzania

Sunita Dubey's picture
Elisha Thomas Laizer owns a small stationery store that provides photocopying and printing services in Kitumbeine, a Maasai village 150 km (93 mi) from the Tanzanian city of Arusha.

Kitumbeine is also 40 km (25 mi) from the nearest electricity grid, but that has not stopped Elisha.

That’s because his store is actually inside a 16 KW mini grid container, under the shade of 60 solar panels. While such easy access to solar power has helped his business tremendously, it has also gifted him with a chance to learn to operate and maintain these mini grids. Consequently, he now acts as a liaison between his community and the solar company that helps set up these grids in remote Tanzanian villages that are starved for electricity.

Elisha’s story is a great example of how the sun paves the way for way more than just turning on a light bulb.

In Sub-Saharan Africa especially, solar power has become a game changer, with countries swiftly embracing this clean, renewable source of energy to close their electricity access gaps. A confluence of favorable market forces, including cheaper-than-ever prices and technology, have encouraged the uptake of solar by private investors and countries alike. Solar PV costs have dropped nearly 60 percent since 2010 and are as low as 6 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour today, according to IRENA. They are projected to fall a further 60 percent in the next decade.
 
Photo: Power Corner


The effect is apparent in Kitumbeine.

Before March 2016, this Maasai village of 800 people, or 250 households, had no access to electricity, given the last vestiges of the electricity grid and power lines stop miles away. But that changed when Power Corner’s 16 KW solar and diesel hybrid mini-grid started supplying round-the-clock electricity to 50 households with the aim of connecting another 60-70 households subsequently. 

Power Corner, an initiative of the global power company Engie, recently entered the mini grids market in Tanzania. The 16 KW mini-grid in Kitumbeine is their maiden project, and they have plans to build up to 100 additional mini-grids.

Today in Kitumbeine, the sun powers not only households, but several small businesses, grocery stores, a pharmacy, hotel, barber shop, welder, car and bike mechanic shops. It is amazing to see what a difference these past nine months have made for the local economy. People don’t have to drive 40-50 km to buy essential items or rely on expensive diesel generators. In fact, Kitumbeine has experienced only one minute of power outage since its solar mini-grid was set up, compared to rampant blackouts and low voltage issues in other parts of the country.

In Kitumbeine, Power Corner also provides energy efficient appliances to its customers, and have sold 16 refrigerators, 24 TVs and 8 freezers so far. The company believes that involving the local community at every stage of implementation of the mini-grid project is key to its success and emphasizes the need to teach villagers to use energy-smart appliances to use electricity even more responsibly. Power Corner aims to be more than just a service provider, taking on responsibilities such as awareness generation, educating people about efficient use of electricity and appliances, and supporting customers to take up small, commercial activities.
 
Like Power Corner, several other mini-grid operators are changing the energy access landscape in rural Africa and Asia, by supplying energy services to local communities far from the power grid. The best part about these mini-grids is that they can co-exist with the traditional grid and can be easily incorporated as existing infrastructure if the latter is extended in these areas.
 
But not withstanding their benefits, mini-grids still faces myriad challenges in implementation and scaling up due to lack policy and regulatory clarity, standardized technical specifications, capacity building etc. 
 
To address such hurdles, the World Bank and the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) are working through the Global Facility on Mini-grids to create an enabling environment, spur growth in the sector and provide quality energy services to communities. In a two-day workshop at KIITEC  technical institute in Arusha, for example, ESMAP brought together key stakeholders to discuss the technical expertise required in the sector and ways to impart these skills to local operators, electricians, and software developers at local training centers. What’s more, the World Bank’s Climate Action Plan has plans to mobilize $25 billion in private financing for clean energy in developing countries over the next five years.
 
Elisha and his success inspire me to find ways to support the mini-grid sector and replicate models like Kitumbeine where isolated community have leapfrogged from living in darkness to having access to quality energy services and economic opportunities.

Comments

Submitted by Wilkista on

A challenge that still lies in the development of solar markets is embracing of the technology by reluctant governments who still believe on expansion of the national grids only. How do we get local government to buy fully into solar mini-grids especially where there in no hope of grid connectivity in future?

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