Decentralised renewable energy solutions may be the answer to Tanzania’s energy gap

Only 23 percent of rural population have access to electricity in the country

By Maitreyi Karthik
Published: Friday 04 August 2023
In poor countries like Tanzania, even those with grid connections opt for burning biomass to avoid paying huge electricity prices for their everyday needs and necessities. Photo: iStock__

Underdeveloped and developing countries face energy shortages for their daily needs, especially in rural areas with no grid connection. Rising population and economic activities further lead to energy deficits in such countries, like Tanzania in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is grappling with energy insecurity.

Most developing countries manage the energy gap in rural areas by utilising diesel generators, which is neither economically viable nor environmentally-friendly. Decentralised renewable solutions can be key to bridging the energy gap in such countries. 

Tanzania has an estimated population of about 61 million and about 65 per cent of the people live in rural areas, according to the Population and Housing Census, 2022. Only about 38 per cent of the country’s total population has access to electricity. In rural areas, the figures are as low as 19 per cent

Zanzibar — a semi-autonomous province in Tanzania — has inked a deal with Generation Capital Ltd, a Mauritius-based organization, and Taifa Energy of Tanzania to build the first large-scale solar power plant at an approximate cost of $140 million.

Currently, Zanzibar gets its electricity through a 100 megawatt submarine cable from Tanzania but wants to produce its own electricity. 

The province has increased its push towards renewable energy, and the Government of Zanzibar has committed to donating around 200 acres of land for clean energy projects such as the Zanzibar Clean and Renewable Energy Park. 

This project, which Astra Energy Inc will develop, will produce 50 MW of renewable energy, mainly solar power, on Unguja island, the largest island in Zanzibar. 

In the next decade, Tanzania faces twin energy challenges:

  • Achieving United Nations-mandated  Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 of universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and clean energy by 2030; and
  • Improving the electricity supply to increase economic growth and improve people’s livelihoods.

Energy access

The electricity connectivity of households in Tanzania increased from 24 per cent in 2014 to 38 per cent in 2019, according to a 2020 UN analysis. The figure suggests there are still 37 million people who rely on expensive and unhealthy alternative fuel sources such as kerosene for lighting and other daily needs. 

The number of rural-connected households almost doubled from 10 per cent to 19 per cent for the same period, mainly due to the Comprehensive Rural Electricity Plan funded by the Government of Tanzania (GoT) and its development agencies. 

Despite this, Tanzania falls behind its schedule to meet its sustainable energy goal of 75 per cent connectivity to electricity by 2033.

The per centage of Tanzanian population with electricity connections


Source: UN 2020

Only about 10 per cent of the households in the country are grid-connected, with only about 1 per cent using electricity for cooking, found another report.

This situation is further aggravated by the low levels of electrification, with only 23 per cent of rural people and 77 per cent of urban people having access to electricity, according to a 2021 World Bank report. 

This, thereby, restricts the potential for growth and level of earnings for the people. The people in rural areas spend around 35 per cent of their household income on electricity needs, while the remaining well-off spend only 14 per cent on electricity. 

Needless to say, even those with grid connections opt for burning biomass which is economical for them to avoid paying huge electricity prices for their everyday needs and necessities.

Electrification status of Tanzania


Source: Rural Energy Agency

The installed generation capacity of Tanzania was 1,764 MW in 2022. The country’s renewable power capacity was around 600 MW, with fossil fuels comprising about 60 per cent of the generation capacity. 

Of the total installed capacity, 893 MW (60 per cent) comprised natural gas, 628 MW (39 per cent) comprised hydro-power, and the remaining 11 MW comprised renewable energy resources. 

In June 2020, the first-ever wind farm of Tanzania in Mwenga in the Mufindi district of the Iringa region generated electricity.

Decentralised renewable energy

The number and the installed power capacity of mini-grids in the country have almost doubled since 2008, when the government of Tanzania introduced the small power producers (SPP) framework.

More than 100 mini-grids have been installed since 2008, with new capacity addition of about 157.7 MW, found a report by research nonprofit World Resources Institute.

There are a total of 209 operational mini-grids with an installed capacity of 231.7 MW, which accounts for about 15 per cent of the country’s total capacity, according to a report by UN initiative SEforAll and  research provider BNEF. 

The SPP framework was revised in 2015 to show various technology costs, the size of the plant, and site-specific features. The recent one has eliminated the roadblocks for mini-grid projects of up to 10 MW; remote mini-grids with up to 1 MW capacity do not require a license and regulatory approval but only need to be registered with the regulator while systems with a capacity of 0.1 MW to 10 MW are allowed to be fed into the grid.

Several other initiatives have been taken up for the uptake of mini-grids in Tanzania, which include the Tanzania Energy Development and Access Project (TEDAP), funded by the World Bank. It was launched in 2011 and run by the Rural Energy Agency (REA) under the Tanzanian government. 

The Scaling-up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) was launched in 2013 to mobilise the large-scale development of renewable energy and minigrids with commercial customers.

Traditional to sustainable energy consumption

Community members in the East Usambara Biosphere Reserve and the Kilimanjaro World Heritage Site are now using alternative methods of charcoal production where agricultural waste is used as a substitute for wood. 

The two regions are abundant in agricultural waste, which is a suitable resource for the alternative production of charcoal fuel. Most of the community members who received the benefit of the project have faced challenges in sourcing the cooking fuel since they are not allowed to cut wood from the protected zones. 

The new policy preventing the use of wood in the production of charcoal would have led many traditional charcoal producers to lose their daily livelihoods.

This alternative green business has solved socio-economic problems by providing clean energy resources to poor sections of the population and, at the same time, protecting the environment and the ecosystem by reducing the dependency on forest resources.

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