Getting Connected to Solar Powered Mini-grid for the First Time
By Basil Malaki
How can a community prepare for this transformation?
In the remote Barikiwa village in Liwale District, Lindi Region, electricity from the national grid has never existed, to a large extent villagers have been relying on unsafe kerosene and diesel genset for lighting and powering machines. However Power Corner, a mini-grid company has today set up a solar powered mini-grid which is ready to electrify this village and the nearby village of Chimbuko; these villages will soon reap the benefits of solar energy.
The Energy Change Lab has collaborated with Power Corner to engage the community in identifying productive uses opportunities through running community capacity building and empowerment programs to encourage more members of the communities to engage in income generating activities.
Ali Rashid Ngulaka, an accountant of the leading carpentry workshop in Barikiwa village informed us that they acquired a scale up loan from the Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF) which they were able to repay within the given timeframe. The funds were used to purchase electric carpentry equipments operated by a diesel powered generator to improve quality of their wood products.
Moreover, the group hopes Power Corner energy will have a remarkable impact in their business, the energy according to them has come at the right time when they are well equipped with modern electric equipments and skills necessary to operate those machines.
Ali says, “this electricity will improve our efficiency and productivity while minimizing operational costs to serve our internal and external markets”.
Easy, convenient and reliable access to affordable energy will save their business time that they used to waste on transport to access lathing services 30 km away to the nearest Liwale town and money that they used to spend on fuel and maintenance of the genset and inverter.
In the neighboring Mbaya village, owning a solar symbolizes a high social status, a narrative which will soon change with the entry of Power Corner solar energy. News of electricity coming to the village within a year has reached the local community. Mbaya village is not short of well equipped entrepreneurs ready to tap into the opportunities Power Corner energy will present. Countable homesteads have access to energy from home installed solar panels.
Ahmad Rashid Ngemange husband to Ashura Huruko also known as Mama Zai in the village uses a homemade condenser to make ice sticks for sale. They use a diesel powered engine from a milling to run alternator for lighting up their home and commercially to weld and generate income. They mass produce gardening rakes for sale from their welding workshop which they sell locally in the village and in the nearby village. Their diesel powered engine produces more energy than they consume but their neighbors haven't been convinced to buy into their lucrative energy plan.
Presently, they find their diesel engine expensive to sustain due to high fuel and maintenance costs incurred running the diesel powered engine on a routine basis. To this entrepreneurial family already consuming energy from an alternative source, Power Corner energy coming to the village will enable them to expand their business prospects.
Ashura who works closely with her husband tells us; she has been able to achieve much in a village with gender based social constraints with the support of her husband, she urges us to design interventions that will target men to empower women to consider using energy productively to elevate living standards of their families.
According to Ashura, most men in the village restrict their wives to family chores, the ripple effect of this social practice was reaffirmed when we spoke to women in the Village Community Banking (VICOBA) group, some of the women we spoke to who are not actively engaged in business said, once they are connected to power, they will buy TV sets, fridges, juice blenders among other household appliances for home use because their husbands want them to do so.
Nonetheless, most women currently running small scale businesses have a different opinion, they prefer to look into ways they can use Power Corner energy to boost their income, noting that they receive more support from their husbands since their financial contribution to the family welfare is evident.
At Nakopi village in Masasi District, Power Corner local operator introduced us to Zuwena Maulid - a tailor who is a role model to many young women in the village. She has trained several young girls and women to tailor fashionable attires with her pristine tailoring skills. She was among the first applicants of Power Corner energy in the village, she plans to use energy to run her tailoring machines which are able to operate electric motors and work more efficiently, faster and timely. Power Corner energy in the village was almost ready for use at the time of our visit.
In the opinion of Zuwena, majority of married women she trains are more likely to drop out of her training program unlike unmarried women, she says most men hardly allow their women to engage in productive income generating activities outside their homes, apart from farming, she narrates to us several cases she has experienced where women are forced to drop out of her tailoring classes to attend to light family duties.
Sifa Mbaraka is a former student of Zuwena who at present owns two sewing machines, she acquired business capital from her parents and bought an old sewing machine. She says, her mentor Zuwena has completely transformed her life and that of her family.
At the time we talked to Sifa, she hadn't identified productive uses of Power Corner energy but she hopes, if her teacher Zuwena is connected and use the energy productively, there is most definitely an opportunity for her to learn from her best practices, she is also determined to get connected and explore the opportunities that come with energy connection.
The villages we visited are preparing to receive Power Corner energy primarily for lighting and other household uses, although, there is need to empower these communities to use energy to generate income and narrow unemployment and socio economic gap in the community.
Identification of viable business ideas, lack of vocational/entrepreneurship skills and capital to kickstart small scale businesses which require electric appliances for productive uses were pointed out as key challenges faced by most entrepreneurs, having said that, these challenges are being addressed by Energy Change Lab, Power Corner and other stakeholders; capacity building and affordable asset financing plans are being designed to address these limitations.
The future is bright for Barikiwa, Mbaya and Nakopi villages and could be brighter once the villages are lit up with Power Corner’s mini-grid, and when the productive uses of energy are put at the centre of the village growth plan.