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Mini wind turbines help light rural Tanzania

by Mohamed Issa | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 28 January 2011 11:30 GMT

Locally assembled small wind power machines, built with scrap and local materials, are gaining a foothold in power-hungry Tanzania

DAR ES SALAAM (AlertNet) - As the Indian Ocean breeze picks up, the whizzing wooden blades of the small wind turbine gather speed some 13 metres (40 feet) above the hilly ground.

Clement Mmbaga, a security guard at the Tanzania Traditional Energy Development and Environment Organisation (TaTEDO) site, in the semi-urban Goba Ward near Dar es Salaam, explains that the three blades are made of pine from the nearby bush.

The locally assembled mini wind power machine can generate up to 1,000 watts of electricity. Its bearings - from used Japanese Mark II cars - and hubs are sourced from vehicle maintenance workshops, and the poles are scrap metal.

At sunset, Mmbaga switches on the site’s security lights, powered by the demonstration turbine. The device is one of 20 that have been fabricated by graduate trainees at TaTEDO, ready to be distributed to rural areas selected for the group’s small-scale energy project.

The Goba-based, low-cost wind turbine scheme is inspired by self-confessed Scottish “wind power fanatic” Hugh Piggott, whose advocacy for small-scale, off-grid electricity production has spread from his own community of Scoraig in northwest Scotland as far afield as Zimbabwe, Peru, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua and now Tanzania.

Piggott’s wind turbines offer a carbon-free way of generating electricity because they do not use fossil fuels like diesel. And they are gaining popularity in developing countries because they can be built cheaply by local people.

“I believe the technology is appropriate for least developed countries like Tanzania because it's a simple product that can be manufactured and maintained with local expertise and resources to a large degree,” Piggott told AlertNet.

Netherlands development agency HIVOS introduced Piggott’s wind turbine technology to Tanzania through training sessions it co-organised with TaTEDO last October.

Daudi Matiya, a local assembler of the Tanzanian turbines, says the machines will have a positive impact in marginalised parts of the east African country not connected to the national grid.


Goba Ward has a population of 20,000, who rely on two dispensaries - one state-run and the other private - for their health services.

Leo Msanga, the turbine project’s coordinator, says the government dispensary has only a small budget and is eligible for a turbine to boost its power supply.

Recently TaTEDO also installed a solar photovoltaic system at the clinic, with a generation capacity of 56 watts, to power one patient room, a labour room, a ward and a microscope for analysing blood samples to detect malaria and other diseases.

TaTEDO also plans to provide low-cost turbine power to other off-grid rural communities, including Mafinga and Makambako in the southern highlands, Singida in the central region, and Same and Moshi in the northern highlands.

Frank Mwanga, a logistics official with the non-governmental organisation, puts the installation cost at 5 million Tanzanian shillings ($3,000) maximum per turbine, which he describes as “affordable”.

The mini windmills have the capacity to produce 350W, 800W or 1,000W, depending on which model buyers can afford. By 2012, the project expects to light more than 30,000 homes, businesses and farms in Tanzania that lack access to electricity.


The TaTEDO scheme is a pioneering step in Tanzania’s efforts to seek clean and renewable ways of producing electricity as demand for power grows.

Recently, the Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Tanesco) - the country’s only electric power utility - reintroduced power rationing due to scarcity of supply.

Demand for electricity is rising each year. Tanzania has a per capita electricity consumption of 46/KWh per year, which is growing at a rate of 11-13 per cent a year.

The ministry of energy and minerals says overall demand will reach 1,005MW in 2011, while production stands at 600MW.

To cope, the government is encouraging investment to expand generating capacity and distribution systems, and to develop home-grown sources of energy.

Wind energy was first tried in Tanzania some three decades ago when a handful of windmills were installed to pump water for human and animal consumption, as well as for irrigation in a few cases. But attempts to manufacture them locally were not successful. Efforts to generate electricity from turbines at the start of the 1980s also failed.

This time, the government has announced incentives for potential investors in renewable energy, as well as simplified procedures for financing solar, wind and micro-hydro systems.

Benefits include a 100 percent depreciation allowance in the first year of operation, exemption from excise duty and sales tax, and concessionary customs duty on the first shipment of materials used in renewable energy projects.

The private sector has begun to respond. Two foreign companies have been registered to undertake large-scale wind farm pilot projects - Power Pool East Africa, which will produce 50MW, and Wind East Africa, which is preparing to operate a farm at Mungaa and Kintiku in the Singida region with a total capacity of 100MW.

While the the TaTEDO renewable energy project is on a much smaller scale, it should also help feed Tanzania’s growing appetite for power, especially in under-served rural areas.

Mohamed Issa is a freelance writer based in Dar es Salaam. This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.



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