Sweco powers up rural Tanzania

Solar power may be a great solution for low-power purposes in large parts of Africa, but for a 24/7 reliable electricity supply a power grid is the answer. Swedish consultancy firm Sweco is currently developing a grid in rural areas of Tanzania, for homes as well as for schools, hospitals and small enterprises such as mills. The solution supports local development in many ways, Sweco’s Fredrik Lewerström insists. 

The Makambako-Songea area, situated in the regions of Njombe and Ruvuma in southern Tanzania, are known to be suffering from power outages, while villages in this remote region have no electricity at all. That is about to change, as the region is now buzzing with activity. Construction companies and dozens of suppliers are working to install power lines and to connect them to villages where people never had the luxury of switching on a light in a second. 

Local power company TANESCO asked Sweco to help develop a grid solution for 23,000 homes and businesses in the region. The project is financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and started early 2016. It includes a total of 250 km of transmission lines, 900 km of distribution lines and three substations. In this project, Sweco is responsible for overall project management, power system analysis, substation design, design of transmission lines, environmental impact assessment and quality assurance throughout the construction phase. Sweco has been working in similar projects in Africa since the 60’s, most often funded by European Governments or World Bank or African Development Bank. 

Standard of living 

According to Fredrik Lewerström, Sweco’s Project Manager in Tanzania, the idea behind the project is to increase stability and expand the distribution of electricity to more villages. “Also, the standard of living in the area can increase by way of access to a stable electricity supply. We are now reaching homes that – until now – had no possibility to connect to the electric grid as they have been too far away and remote. The grid helps power people’s TV, lighting, fridges but also supports schools, hospitals and administrative buildings that lacked energy before. The outcome of this is very successful for the villages, we have also included fibre along the network, to enable internet access. Further we have connected local isolated hydro power plants to the grid.” 

Reliable powerful energy 

According to the project manager, solar power was not the solution for this region. “Solar power is great for initial electrifications. But for development of rural areas you need reliable powerful energy so that you can run small industries for activities such as welding and milling. The problem with solar is that it is only produced in day time and the storage of energy still not has adequate capacity. Storage facilities with batteries are also rather expensive and not environmentally friendly. That is the current situation, but I believe better solutions will come.” 

No more charcoal and firewood 

Building a grid does help the environment. “Currently, charcoal and firewood are used for cooking and access to electricity will also lead to reduced consumption of these fuels. Lighting at home and in schools makes teaching easier and street lighting increases security. The larger villages have electricity by way of local diesel generators, and these can now be replaced by cleaner electricity from the transmission grid.” 

In rural Tanzania, things are looking up. “We are now in the final phase of the project and a lot of activity is taking place in the project area. Many villages have been connected and some happy villagers have experienced electricity in their homes for the first time.”  

Learnings for new projects 

Is it not Sweco’s first power grid project in Africa and it won’t be the last. According to Fredrik Lewerström, the TANESCO/Tanzania project could be a blueprint for new projects on the continent. The Tanzanian project offered some learnings for those new projects, says Lewerström: “The outcome of this is very successful for the villages, we have also included fibre along the network. Further we have connected local isolated hydro power plants to the grid, there is always a lesson to learn. We think we can extend a project like this with more training and capacity building of local staff, to make sure they perform at a higher level after the project is finished. Also, we would like to include sub projects with business development for small business in the area to boost the development. By doing this, we would be able to upgrade a power grid development job into a more sustainable project.”  

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