The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) officially commissioned Zambia’s first independently owned power system, the Muhanya Solar Mini-Grid, on April 12, 2017.
Officials from Zambia’s Ministry of Energy and Water Development and the Zambian Rural Electrification Authority joined representatives from USADF and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for the commissioning ceremony.
This is supported by the Power Africa program, which is co-led by the U.S. in partnership with Sweden Zambia. In 2013, Power Africa was launched, bringing together technical and legal experts, the private sector, and governments from around the world to work in partnership to increase the number of people with access to power.
USADF, in partnership with Power Africa and the U.S.-based company General Electric, led an Off- Grid Energy Challenge to develop and scale-up proven technologies for off-grid energy to reach communities not served by existing power grids. Through the Off-Grid Energy Challenge, Zambia’s Muhanya Solar Limited was awarded a $100,000 grant to support the construction of a 30-kilowatt mini-grid in Sinda, an off-grid community in Eastern Zambia.
“Muhanya Solar exemplifies how Zambian ingenuity in partnership with American support can achieve results,” said Tom Coogan, USADF Regional Director. “Mini-grids like this one might be the future for many of the most remote towns and villages in the world – instead of waiting 15 or 20 years for the national grid to arrive, people are turning on the light switch today.”
Currently, Zambia has 2,400 MW of installed electrical capacity, virtually all of which is hydro, and only 47 percent of the urban population and 4 percent of the rural population have access to power. In Zambia, Power Africa endeavors to increase generation capacity by 900 MW, increase access to an additional 1 million households, and provide off-grid connections to 300 health posts. Continent wide, Power Africa’s goals are to increase electricity access to the most vulnerable and remote communities.
Before the solar mini-grid, residents of the town of Sinda relied entirely upon kerosene lamps, candles and car batteries for any access of power. Now, with the flick of a switch, residents can light their homes and charge their appliances like phones and radios. Residents pay a connection fee and a set amount each week or month for the use of electricity. The residents also contributed their own labor and materials for the construction of the plant.
“With only 4 percent of rural household connected to power and the slow pace of expanding the national grid, the future of electricity in Zambia’s rural areas will largely depend on beyond-the-grid solutions, such as mini-grids and rooftop solar systems,” said USAID/Zambia’s Economic Office Director, Mr. Jeremy Boley. “This program, with Power Africa support, seeks to increase sustainable access to energy by spurring investment in innovative off-grid ventures.”
Founded in 2005, Muhanya worked with technology supplier African Energy, an American solar company based in Arizona which sources many products from American manufacturers. To meet the still large unmet demand in the town, Muhanya plans to scale up the mini-grid. The mini-grid is already connecting to 60 households, a school and a grocery store.
Through the Off-Grid Energy Challenge, USADF has funded over 70 off-grid energy companies in nine countries in Africa, and invested over $7 million in Africa’s energy entrepreneurs, which has already resulted in over 16,500 actual connections benefitting over 82,000 people.
USADF invests and works directly at the grassroots level, providing seed capital and local technical support to early stage agriculture, energy and youth-led enterprises, and last year generated $80 million in new local economic activities in poor and vulnerable communities in Africa, including many here in Zambia. To learn more about the USADF Off-Grid Energy Challenge, visit www.usadf.gov/off-grid.