Like many villages in Tanzania, crop farming is the backbone of Kalenge’s economy, complemented by small ancillary businesses and livestock rearing. And also like many villages in Tanzania – where only around 17% of rural people have electricity access, Kalenge is unelectrified; its households have no connections to a central or local power grid.
But this is about to change, at least for some of Kalenge’s residents. A private company called PowerGen has received financial assistance from the Government’s Rural Energy Fund to install a small-scale (6kW) solar mini-grid with generator backup, as part of national efforts to achieve the goal of connecting 75% of the Tanzanian population by 2033. PowerGen will provide electricity services such as lighting, charging, entertainment, refrigeration and cooking to about 99 homes and 34 businesses in an area of just over a square kilometre in central Kalenge. Users will be able to pay their monthly bills, based on consumption, using their mobile phones.
How will this change life in Kalenge? SEI researchers recently visited Kalenge to talk to villagers about their thoughts, needs and expectations of electrification.
A day in the life of a farmer, Rose
Rose’s day is typical for many female farmers in Kalenge. She wakes up at 6 am to prepare breakfast and get ready to go to the family’s fields, where she grows maize, millet and beans to feed her husband and 7 children. She comes home to cook lunch and dinner for her family and spends about three hours every afternoon collecting firewood with some of her children. Her husband is out most of the day fishing or mining. They eat dinner around sunset, at 6–7 pm, and Rose puts her children to bed at 9 pm.
Rose is excited about the mini-grid and is anticipating that the services it provides will improve lives and livelihoods in her village. She plans to use the electricity for lighting. Right now, her family has to rely on two battery-powered torches. With the coming of the mini-grid, she hopes to see her own and other houses well lit. That will allow children to study in the evenings without worrying about the lights going off.
Rose also hopes electricity will reduce their reliance on firewood for cooking and for lighting when the torch batteries run down. As well as the time spent gathering firewood, Rose worries about the health effects of burning wood indoors. “My family has to breathe a lot of smoke, and I know that is not healthy,” she says. In the longer run, Rose intends to save up for a TV.
Rose also believes that the mini-grid will give the community better access to the local health centre at night, since the villagers will have powered torches and lights to walk to the clinic.
(Em)powering businesses in Kalenge
Martin is a local entrepreneur. He runs a welding business and sells water from his well to the village, which does not have access to clean piped water. Martin’s welding machines currently run on a diesel generator, which he also uses for lighting, charging and entertainment at his home and a guesthouse he owns, and to power the water pump for his well.
Martin hopes that getting connected to the mini-grid will allow him to stop using his costly generator. Many other better-off businessmen in Kalenge, like Martin, expect to use power from the mini-grid primarily for productive uses (e.g. milling, grinding, carpentry and tailoring) and to extend their opening hours in order to boost their businesses.
An energy upgrade
Innocent is a farmer and chairman of Chanya, a part of Kalenge village. During farming seasons, Innocent, his wife and two older children set off at 5 am for the two-hour bicycle journey to their fields, coming back home at 6 pm. During the day, he is busy at his family’s farm cultivating maize, bean, sorghum and cassava for subsistence and tobacco to sell. With their long days out of the house, Innocent’s family has an acute need for domestic lighting. The family now uses a small solar torch (charged during the day via its own solar panel) for lighting at night. Just like Rose’s family, they use firewood for cooking and sometimes lighting in the kitchen.
“My wife needs the torch to light the kitchen so that she can cook and my children need it to study, but at the same time I need it for when I go to the shop, to see my colleagues at the business centre or tend to my goats and chickens,” says Innocent.
Innocent is signing up for the mini-grid service because he has been disappointed by the small solar home system he installed one year ago. The rechargeable battery of his system is virtually dead and can only support charging of mobile phones.
Consequently, Innocent has high hopes that the mini-grid will provide sufficient power for his family. He has subscribed for one of PowerGen’s basic lighting packages. He hopes to upgrade later and acquire a TV from PowerGen to watch the news.
Solar mini-grids as a solution to energy poverty?
Martin, Rose and Innocent have all decided to sign up for the electricity services. But not all the households in the grid’s catchment area have. In many cases, it is because they cannot afford the connection fee. Sylvanos is an elderly farmer living with his wife, his daughter and grandchildren. They cannot afford to connect to the mini-grid, and unlike Rose, Martin and Innocent’s families, they do not have a torch or a solar lantern. In the evening, they burn twigs and firewood to light up their house. Sylvanos wife uses firewood for cooking.
“We usually go to bed early, around 7 pm, since we don’t have proper lights in the house. We don’t have a TV, radio or a telephone. All we want is to be connected so that we can stay awake a few more hours every evening,” Sylvanos says.
Providing affordable power to families like Innocent’s, and meeting all the diverse needs and expectations of the other villagers, while at the same time ensuring the financial sustainability of the mini-grid, will be a challenge for PowerGen. The company is keen to use the insights from SEI’s research to help them improve their business model in Kalenge and elsewhere in Tanzania. Understanding the people and the socio-economic dynamics within the community can help other companies like PowerGen better design their products and delivery, to have a positive impact for the communities involved.
SEI’S research in Kalenge
SEI researchers Cassilde Muhoza and Mbeo Ogeya interviewed Rose, Martin, Sylvanos, Innocent and many other villagers during a recent visit to Kalenge village. A local consultant, Emanoel Richard, as well as three local research assistants (Tobias Nzunaki, Peter Magoho and Pascal Mwakingwe), supported them in interviewing and translation. This fieldwork was part of a study to better understand people’s behaviours and choices in relation to uptake of electricity services from renewable energy mini-grids. The study is under SEIs Behaviour and Choice Initiative.
The research team talked to people in 45 households and 10 businesses in Kalenge. This first study aimed to document the situation before being given access to modern electricity services from the solar mini-grid. A follow-up study is planned to see how the mini-grid connection compared with those initial expectations, and explore its impacts on the village and the residents’ health, education, livelihoods, energy use and other aspects of their lives.
Read more about SEIs research on renewable energy mini-grids in Southern Africa
FOOTNOTES: Photos: Cassilde Muhoza and Mbeo Ogeya (SEI). Story: Cassilde Muhoza, Oliver Johnson, Mbeo Ogeya, Anneli Sundin and Caspar Trimmer. Note: the names of the interviewees have been changed.