In mid October, I travelled to Mwanza, Tanzania to help coordinate a project that will establish 16 solar-hybrid minigrids in the surrounding region of Lake Victoria.
Mwanza is the coordination base from where the work for establishing the 16 minigrids in the surrounding rural areas will happen. Typically, only 2-5% of Tanzanians in these areas have access to energy. Bwisya, where the first minigrid will be built, is a village on Ukara Island, located 97km away from Mwanza. Bwysia requires two ferry rides (over the course of a day) to get to.
Fishing on Ukara Island is the main economic activity, while cash crops (including cassava and sweet potatoes) are smaller, alternative livelihood sources. The value of the fishing activities is limited in part by lack of refrigeration of the daily catch, which reduces the price that can be paid for the fish. This would be just one of many ways that electricity could improve the livelihoods of those living in Bwisya.
JUMEME is the joint venture that will set up this minigrid. It was founded by partners working out of five countries, including technical consulting and engineering firms INENSUS, TerraProjects, as well as Saint Augustine University of Tanzania. All 16 minigrids that JUMEME will build will serve 82,000 beneficiaries.
This overall mini-grid “project” is really split into two parts. The first one—the “demonstration” or pilot project—is funded by the Energy and Environment Partnership–Southern and East Africa (EEP). The purpose of this project is to set up the Bwisya minigrid.
The second project, which will be simultaneously implemented, is partly funded by the EU (African-Caribbean-Pacific – European Union Energy Facility II Grant). This project is designed to expand from the Bwisya (EEP) project, where 15 additional minigrids would be established in the surrounding region. Because this “scale-up” project also requires private capital, the EEP project would serve as a demonstration that can be used to help source investors and commercial debt.
The GVEP team will organize the EEP-project implementation, while providing ancillary support for the scale-up project. We met for two days with all partners in a conference room on the verdant campus of Saint Augustine University to finalize action items and to allocate specific roles and tasks among the partners. It’s an exciting chapter for JUMEME, as construction in Bwisya is set to launch soon.
The effects of the minigrid establishment will be substantial. For example, in Bwisya, at the very least, electricity would attract economic activities from other areas to the center and stimulate enterprise and entrepreneurial activity. It could revive the village water pump to decrease water-born diseases while facilitating better and cleaner drinking water (currently residents pay for water that could be used to pay for the pump). Other benefits include anything from home lighting (to study, and to reduce smoke from kerosene) to other productive uses—and refrigerating the fish haul—as well as the opportunity to enjoy leisure activities such as watching television.