By Cynthia Bavo
Born and raised in Dar es Salaam, Diana Mbogo knows what it’s like to not have access to energy. Tanzania’s largest and one of the world’s fastest growing cities, suffers from frequent power cuts. “Lights go out about a hundred times a year”, she laments. “This, of course, hinders economic development enormously.” In every challenge however, lies an opportunity. That is why Diana set up her own renewable energy business.
Diana was still a student, pursuing a Bachelor in Science in Mechanical Engineering, when she got inspired to work in the field of renewable energy. During an academic field project, in a team of seven students, she built up a wind turbine to power up a primary school in rural Tanzania and started focusing her research projects on access to energy. A fellow student then showed her an advertisement posted in Buni, an Innovation Hub in Dar es Salaam, calling for applications for a 5-day learning programme in which the main challenges around energy access issues would be explored. A good match, it seemed.
Diana was selected to participate in the programme, organised by the Energy Change Lab and Buni Hub. The ‘Energy Safari’, as the programme was called, brought together activists, entrepreneurs, academics and engineers to work together to find new solutions to energy problems. In Swahili, ‘safari’ means ‘long journey’, and a journey it was. The idea behind the Energy Safari was to prototype possible solutions among the people that need to benefit from them; all in an unrealistically short time-frame. That way, a rich and intense learning experience with unexpected results was promised.
As far as Diana was concerned, the Safari delivered. “It was a workshop… It was a course… It was an adventure! We got a really concrete idea of the energy sector in Tanzania and, because we worked together with so many different people, I was able to build a rich network of contacts. I still work together with some of the people I met during the Safari.”
After the Safari, she founded a company called Millennium Engineers. It focuses mainly on consultancy, research and technical support in the wind and solar sector, but also sells all kinds of small scale energy solutions. “We have solar water pumps, used for irrigation that we sell to farmers and large plantations. We also sell solar mobile chargers that can be used to charge laptops and phones, and solar kits that can provide small houses with energy. Our wind turbines are larger and can be used by hospitals and schools.”
“What drives me is the realisation that energy is the backbone of development. I don’t believe any community can develop unless it has access to it. Energy means access to information, the ability to work more productively and for more hours. It means lighting, security. It’s civilization. However, more than half of the population of Tanzania doesn’t have access to energy. I see it as my duty to change this. We’ve only just started, but business is going well. The market potential for renewable energy is great.”