Power cut? Power cut! Almost on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, Zanzibar and Tanzania face challenges with electricity supply. As population and tourism grow, could solar be a solution? Driving through Zanzibar, one can see an unusual site along the east coast just between Bweeju and Michamvi. A whole field of shiny solar panels, glittering in the sun. The one megawatt solar field (1 MWp) is the first large solar project in the entire archipelago. It supports three sister hotels of the ‘Zanzibar Collection’ with green energy, the Breezes hotel, the Baraza hotel and the Palms hotel.

“During sunny days the entire hotels with around 90 rooms and villas runs on solar”, GM Jacob Moywaywa

“During sunny days the entire hotels with around 90 rooms and villas runs on solar”, GM Jacob Moywaywa said. The shining trailblazer is still a rare exception. Zanzibar as well as the Tanzania mainland are frequently suffering under blackouts. Dar es Salaam has been especially hard hit in recent weeks.

The solar paradox in Africa

What will be the power of the future in Africa? While China is spending more money on solar and wind exploration than the rest of the world combined, and western states are shifting to alternative energies to halt climate change, the most sun kissed continent of all seems to be lagging behind in the solar revolution. Limited infrastructure, financial constraints and a lack of widespread technology adoption contribute to the paradox of having so much sun but so little solar energy, experts say. A few sun pioneers are there: South Africa leads the pack with an impressive 2,500 megawatts (MW) of installed solar capacity, closely followed by Egypt and Morocco. Kenya, too, is investing substantially in solar. Nigeria, the African country with the highest population, wants to increase its electric capacity to 30,000 MW in 2030, with a third of that from renewable energy such as hydro and solar.

Zanzibar’s blackout woes

Zanzibar receives all its electricity from the mainland, “supplied by a 100 MW, 132k volt submarine cable and there is no back up generation on the island” explains John Okoro, engineer and solar expert based in France. Originally from Nigeria he has worked in many African countries and is coordinating the first solar project in Fumba Town. In Zanzibar, an outdated power grid and high population growth strain the existing infrastructure, leading to frequent blackouts. “Peak power demand is often exceeding the 100 MWp capacity”, Okoro says. “Load shedding and power rationing have become necessary to avoid shutdown.”

Solar Project in Bambi

But in a new development, Zanzibar is set to embrace solar power on a grand scale with a planned 180 MW solar plant near Bambi. The first public-private solar project and a wind energy project are in the pipeline, local media reported. Fiction or reality? Okoro is cautious, especially with wind energy: “Zanzibar does not have the road infrastructure to transport heavy, long wind turbines across the island, especially not over weak and narrow bridges”, the expert points out – a simple but apparently overlooked challenge. More potential holds the “billionaire deal”, a partnership for solar between the Taifa Energy company owned by billionaire Rostam Aziz and Zanzibar Electricity Corporation (Zeco). Since the state is involved here, the energy generated would be allowed to feed into the national grid – a huge advantage. It was not revealed how many households would benefit from the plant. For 20,000 households, the size of Fumba Town in the future, a capacity of about 40-50 MWp is needed, experts say, if solar and batteries were to power the entire town.

Endless Possibilities

There are endless solar possibilities, from solar fields to solar panels on balconies, with the help of batteries or without, says German technician Peter Hoenen who has installed photovoltaic panels on more than 100,000 roofs all over the world, commissioned by development institutions. Engineer Hoenen also equipped the Lutindi clinic in Usambara with photovoltaics, a typical project for Africa – small-scale, remote and battery-driven. “But this has no future”, the expert says. “Ideally solar power should be connected to the grid” – an issue under debate also in Zanzibar. As a rule of thumb, one solar roof can generate two to three times more energy than needed by a household. Before alternative energy plans can be realized, Zanzibar’s grid infrastructure has to be overhauled. The World Bank has already issued $110 million for that.

Culled from