Seizing the Solar Energy Revolution in Tanzania

Ajuna Kagaruki in front of her house with the Solar Home System. Image by <a href="ández-01759219/en" target="_blank">Carmen Rosa</a>

A. Kagaruki in front of her house with SHS. Image by Carmen Rosa

When Ajuna Kagaruki and her husband built their new house in Mabwepande, a suburb of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, it was not an option to wait for the government to connect the area to the national grid. Instead, they decided to take action themselves in order to have electricity for their life with the three children. Today, a 120 kwh Solar Home System (SHS) lights the house, powers a TV and an iron and charges their mobile phones.

“When we moved in here, there was no electricity. That was hard. My children were bored and the two older ones could sometimes not finish their homework in the evening.” Ajuna Kagaruki is 35 years old, works as a social welfare officer and on top of that, just accomplished her Master’s degree. Her husband is a lawyer. “Even though we had a nice house, we could not enjoy family life here, because it was dark when we all got home.” With this experience, Ajuna Kagaruki and her family are not alone in their country. In Tanzania, only 26% of households have access to the national grid. And only 11% of people in rural areas and 40% in urban areas have access to electricity at all.

Ajuna Kagaruki and her family changed this situation for themselves. A few months ago, they decided to buy a Solar Home System (SHS). While Ajuna knew about the technology before, she wasn’t convinced to install it, because she heard a lot of stories about bad services and technical problems. This situation is also very common in Tanzania. As there is a lack of expertise for the technology, a lack of trained employees as well as no quality standards for solar equipment, many installations fail or need intense maintenance. However, Ajuna Kagaruki came across one company, who was supposed to offer good and reliable after-sales service. “When the Mobisol technician explained me how the system worked, I was surprised how easy it is. I can actually handle it myself and if I need support, there is always a team to contact.”

Image by Carmen Rosa

A. Kagaruki and her daughter in front of the TV and solar battery. Image by Carmen Rosa

Mobisol was founded 5 years ago, starting in Arusha in 2011. In 2013, the company had hired 30 people and 500 customers across Tanzania. Today there are about 400 employees in the country (about 200 sale agents, 150 local technicians, training technicians and assemblers) and 37.000 customers. All employees are trained by Mobisol in their academy centers is Arusha, Mwanza and Mbeya. “Especially finding good sales agents is difficult. Technicians, we usually find through universities or vocational trainings”, says one Mobisol staff member. The SHS are designed for households and small commercial use and are based on a rent-to-own idea: After a down payment of 8%, the customer makes a monthly payment for a maximum of three years. If a customer does not pay the monthly rate, which is done through M-Pesa, the system is locked down. When the full amount is paid off, the customer owns the system and produces electricity for free.

Ajuna Kagaruki’s 120 kwh SHS costed the family 163.000 TZS (about 76 USD) for the upfront payment and about 70.000 TZS (about 32 USD) for the monthly payment. “I am enjoying the light in the evening, watching TV and having a charged mobile phone whenever I need it. My older kids can do homework also at home and sometimes they even bring their friends to play after school.”

Image by Carmen Rosa

Watching a TV running on solar power. Image by Carmen Rosa

The Tanzanian government is aware of the fact that energy is the prerequisite for development. “We want to tackle the challenges that so many people in our country are facing every day,” says Doto Mashaka Biteko, Member of the Tanzanian Parliament and Chair of the Energy and Minerals Committee. “Therefore, the government is aiming to provide access to 50% of the population by 2020.”  And Mwanahamisi Athumani Munkuda, Clerk to the Parliamentary Committee Energy and Minerals adds: “The parliament has allocated 53% of the national development budget – which is about 1.13 trillion TZ Schilling – for energy issues.”

The National Energy Plan from 2015 unveils how this should be achieved and what the money should be spent for. “In fact, looking at the government’s strategy for enhancing access to electricity, it is mainly about expanding the national grid,” says Sixbert Mwanga, Head of Climate Action Network Tanzania (CAN Tanzania). “However, renewable energies provide a unique window of opportunity to transform the electricity production and supply of Tanzania. Examples from across the world actually show that a decentralized approach, based on off-grid and on-grid solutions, is much cheaper and delivers faster.” CAN Tanzania, in cooperation with the World Future Council and Bread for the World, is currently developing policy recommendations for transiting to 100% Renewable Energy as a mean to reduce poverty in the country.

Ajuna Kagaruki shares this experience: “The government says that the national grid will be extended to our area within the next 3 years. But I couldn’t wait that long to have electricity for my family. And now, even if we get connected to the grid, I would continue with our SHS, because by then, I will produce my electricity for free.”

Authors: Anna Leidreiter & Irene Garcia


Friday, August 19th, 2016