Solar energy lights the way for one forgotten Tanzanian village
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The dusty village of Melela Mlandizi stands 45 kilometres outside of regional hub Morogoro, Tanzania. Far from city infrastructure, its 200 inhabitants would be forgotten but for the installation of a solar power system, harnessing the hot sun that beats down overhead. It is what lights their homes off the grid.
Instead of using dangerous kerosene to light their homes, residents use solar energy, usually in the form of three light bulbs.
“Before we were using kerosene lamps, but now we get electricity. And actually mostly for students, now they can study even in the night nicely, and also for moms who have kids, and babies, it helps them. Because before it was not easy,” says Idd Ally Kapazi, a 23-year-old solar energy technician.
“A baby cries and it's dark, and sometimes you don’t have kerosene. And here where we live is very far from where you can get kerosene. So solar is perfect,” he says.
Kapazi has been installing solar lighting systems for the past two years in villages around the area. Customers use Devergy, a solar startup created by Italian engineers in Tanzania.
Users pay 12,000 Tanzanian shillings (6 euros) a month for their electricity. The poorest homes have a few lightbulbs, while others run appliances via solar. People who cannot pay per month pay 4,000 shillings a week, and those who struggle pay per day.
It takes three to five hours to charge the solar battery in the sun for the whole night.
Many people are proud to be Devergy customers, including businessman, farmer and Melela Mlandizi resident Seliman Maji Melalila, meter number 690747.
“At first this solar programme was so great, it managed to improve lot of people’s lives, but recently it has being a bit of a challenge, since not everyone has access to the power and we just don’t know why,” he says.
Lately, there have been some issues with their electricity source.
“Before, we were using the power to watch television, and we bought a special television for solar power. But now, you watch it for an hour, and then it stops. It’s a connectivity problem,” he adds.
Devergy’s head of country operations for Tanzania, Gian Luca Cescon, told RFI that the solar battery needs to be changed for customers in Melela Mlandizi.
“It’s like a cell phone battery,” he says. “You use it and recharge it, but occasionally, you need to replace it.”
The problem, he says, is that the batteries have been sitting at the Port of Dar es Salaam for the past 3 months, waiting for clearance.
“We need to do better for our customers, but we’re waiting for the batteries,” he says.
Devergy already supplies electricity to 800 customers, including the residents of Melela Mlandizi, and has expanded by licensing Devergy grids to third parties in Ghana, where they power two villages.
Back in Melela Mlandizi, we come across Mama Ermina Mwenda, making food for the eight people in her family her husband, child and her in-laws with their children.
She says she is very happy to have solar, especially because it has made the village safer, but for her family, it is still difficult for them to pay for the service.
“The challenge I have noticed so far is, if you don’t have enough money to put in the voucher, you can’t have electricity,” she says. Her family buys vouchers daily via their mobile phone.
It has made the town a lot safer at night, says Mwenda. Although her other neighbours have solar-run appliances, she says the three light bulbs are enough for her.
“With our standard of living, our poverty, I can’t want more. It’s enough for me. As long as I have bulbs, I have light, it’s ok.”
Devergy put Melela Mlandizi on the map, according to Mwanda. She says that the government saw the changes that were made in the village, and they have installed electricity poles.
“It has motivated the government. The poles are there, but the electricity has not been put in yet,” says Mwanda, but notes that she would never switch from solar to Tanesco, Tanzania Electric Supply Company Limited.
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