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'Fast asleep' Tanzanian port wakes up to solar power

by Mohamed Issa | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 4 November 2014 06:30 GMT

Paschal Paulo Munishi, secretary of the Kisiju Pwani village electricity committee, stands near the solar mini-grid in the village. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Mohamed Issa

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One of the country’s poorest villages is transformed by the arrival of a battery-backed solar panel system

KISIJU PWANI, Tanzania (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - This Indian Ocean port town is among the poorest villages in Tanzania. But residents once starved for electricity can now watch television or listen to the radio at home, or eat dinner in the evenings at one of the well-lit open-air food stalls.

What has changed? The arrival of solar power.

Before the panels were set up last year, “the village was fast asleep,” admitted Kisiju Pwani executive secretary Sadiki Chande Matonela.

Now, street lights have let food vendors stay open into the evening and security lights at the port have helped curb once rampant theft, he said.

A stable power supply also has enabled Ramadhani Dau, 34, and his wife Zainabu Thabiti, a former health officer, to open the Kisiju Pwani village pharmacy, saving villagers a long journey to the nearest town. A building materials and hardware shop also has opened since the solar energy arrived.

Kisiju Pwani was singled out to receive solar panels from a shortlist of a dozen of the poorest rural villages in Tanzania, and the equipment was subsequently installed by the University of Dar es Salaam in collaboration with the University of Oslo, with $430,000 in financial backing from the Norwegian development agency, NORAD.

The village itself also contributed 20 percent of the cost by providing land for the mini-grid and security guards to ensure its protection.

The new 12-kilowatt system includes 32 photovoltaic solar panels and a battery bank of 120 batteries that store the sun’s energy for use at night.

The mini-grid is big enough to benefit in some way about half of the 3,994 villagers, officials say. Its backbone is a power line running through half the village, with cables buried a metre underground for safety.

So far, the system powers 20 street lights and provides energy for 68 homes, 15 businesses, the sea port, the village government offices and two mosques.


Now villagers in the coverage area can switch on their lights and fans, charge their mobile phones, listen to radio, watch television and say their prayers in well-lit rooms for just 10,000 to 20,000 Tanzanian shillings ($6-$12) a month, village officials say.

Villagers were involved in planning and carrying out the project, and a village committee is responsible for managing the mini-grid, with a technical team in charge of operations and maintenance.

The project was also purposely sited near the most visible parts of the community “to attract the attention of many passersby” and help popularise the technology, said Bakari Mwinyiwiwa, an energy professor at the University of Dar es Salaam.

Kisiju Pwani lies in the Coast region, considered one of the poorest regions on the Tanzanian mainland in terms of access to services.

Located 50 km (30 miles) from Mkuranga, the closest town connected to the national grid, and 100 km (60 miles) from rapidly growing Dar es Salaam, the village relied mainly on kerosene for lighting and wood for cooking before the arrival of the solar panels. It had little prospect of being linked to grid power, Mwinyiwiwa said.

Plans for the Tanzania Electric Supply Company (TANESCO), the country’s sole electrical supplier, to extend grid services to remote rural areas have foundered, largely because of the high costs and the inability of rural residents to bear the costs.

Around 36 percent of Tanzanians have access to electricity. But in rural areas, where 80 percent of people live, only 7 percent can get electricity, government figures show.

Mohamed Issa is a freelance writer based in Dar es Salaam.

(Editing by Tim Pearce and Laurie Goering; laurie.goering@thomsonreuters.com)

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