Off-Grid Minigrids to Bring Sustainable Energy to 160,000 in Tanzania

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An ambitious project is underway to install minigrids for more than 160,000 off-grid villagers on islands in Lake Victoria.

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JUMEME solar minigrid project in Lake Victoria, Tanzania. Courtesy of RP Global

JUMEME Rural Power Supply recently launched phase one to commission by June 11 solar-hybrid minigrids for 20 villages and more than 80,000 villagers. Eleven more minigrids are slated for another 23 villages, 160,000 people, in phase two.

Equipping households with digitally networked solar panels, batteries, inverters and smart meters, JUMEME makes use of a pay-as-you-go service model to generate revenues and earn a return on its investment.

“Besides the existing legal framework and the favorable solar resources, our decision to invest in Tanzania is a direct consequence of the low electrification rate in the country. Solar hybrid mini-grids are the least-cost electrification option, especially in rural areas, and the pay-as-you-go business model of JUMEME makes electricity consumption for the customer affordable,” said Leo Shiefermüller, director of RP Global Africa. RP Global Africa’s parent, RP Global — an independent power producer — is JUMEME’s majority shareholder. 

Building upon success of the minigrids

The minigrid project will provide sustainable electricity to households and businesses that have never had access to reliable, safe, and  environmentally friendly electricity, Shiefermüller said in an interview.

“They are not connected to the national grid, and it is highly unlikely that the grid will reach them in the foreseeable future. The people in these off-grid regions must often walk many miles to the next diesel generator, for example to be able to charge a mobile phone, and rely on kerosene for lighting and cooking. The electricity provided through our mini-grids is in any case more affordable than either of those options as well as being healthier, more sustainable and comfortable,” he told Microgrid Knowledge.

The project, co-financed by the European Union (E.U.) via the ACP-EU Energy Facility, builds upon the success of an initial JUMEME minigrid project for a Lake Victoria island village that has been in operation in 2016. The success of that project, particularly with regard to locals making productive use of the minigrid electricity to improve their lives and livelihoods, lead JUMEME and its parent company to embark on its expansion, Shiefermüller explained.

“RP Global is a company, not an NGO and does therefore hope to get a return on investment at some point, but is aware that this will take a few years, aiming to make sure everyone is benefiting. Providing electricity through a model such as ours fosters economic development — the resulting increased income enables the recipients to pay for this electricity, thereby creating a win-win situation for all parties involved,” he said.

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JUMEME’s Lake Victoria minigrid customers mainly consist of households and small businesses. A few anchor, commercial-industrial customers, such as mills, workshops and telecom towers, account for the bulk of energy consumption.  “Consumption varies by customer type. Whereas households only use 1-5 kWh per month, the power consumption of mills and telecom towers is 10-50 kWh per day,” Shiefermüller said.

Making productive use of electricity

The project’s practical benefits became apparent once the initial minigrid was up and running. “This is especially true for women, who are provided the means to gain economic independence by founding electricity-reliant businesses, such as hair salons or bakeries. In addition, access to electricity will enable the installation of irrigation systems and water pumps, thereby reducing the adverse impact of droughts. It will also improve the production of food and storage,” Shiefermüller said.

The minigrid electricity also offers benefits in terms of human and environmental health and quality of life.

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“Both diesel and kerosene add to pollution, thus having an adverse environmental impact and kerosene is also a serious health hazard. Another added benefit is that the energy is at hand and always available,” Shiefermüller said. “In terms of human impact, the access to electricity has helped create and expand businesses, as well as making life easier for a number of reasons, for example for doctors and nurses that need to perform surgeries or help with births at night, for the local school , agriculture and especially the fishermen whose fish now last longer thanks to the cooling/storing possibility, as well as the freezer JUMEME bought.”

JUMEME has grander ambitions yet, even as it undertakes the Lake Victoria islands minigrid project. “Many of the remote communities in Tanzania are still without access to electricity. So far, our regions of operation show some of the lowest rural electrification rates in Tanzania, ranging between 3- 5 percent. In these areas, the population is widely dispersed across numerous distant villages and small towns making it hard to connect them through the national grid,” Shiefermüller said.

JUMEME believes it could supply high-quality and reliable electricity to 1 million Tanzanians by 2023 if political and regulatory events and conditions proved favorable. That would make the company the largest minigrid operator in Sub-Saharan Africa, he said.

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