Solar Energy on Zanzibar – more than just a Business

A guest article by Patricia Wehr, volunteer at Renewable Energy Zanzibar association (REZA)

Zanzibar – located in the Indian Ocean near the equator the islands warm climate invites hundreds of tourists from all over the world every year to enjoy the island’s beauty. With an average of almost 8 hours of sun a day it seems not only easy to enjoy seeing the sunbeams breaking in the clear, turquoise blue water on the beach, but also to use the sun and its solar power as a source of renewable energy. But why do so many residents still not have access to solar energy, even though it would be an inexpensive and sustainable alternative to the unhealthy kerosine lamps? How has the solar energy sector on Zanzibar developed; what has already been achieved; which difficulties it has to cope with and why solar energy on Zanzibar is more than just a business – are the questions I had in mind when I joined REZA as a volunteer earlier this year.

Flash back to the year 2000. In a small village at the south coast of Unguja, Kizimkazi, a group of dedicated people came together to found a solar lamp shop, where they constructed, lent and sold solar lamps and worked together with the students of the local secondary schools. Together with the German-Tanzanian Partnership (DTP e.V.), which is sending volunteers to Zanzibar every year, the idea of solar energy on Zanzibar developed and the project expanded fast: 14 villages, several workshops and educational programs made the start of solar energy on Zanzibar for ordinary people a real success.

On village presentations young and old Zanzibaris learn about the benefits of solar power.

That’s why in 2003 the organisation ZASEA, short for Zanzibar Solar Energy Association, was founded. Ramadhan Said Omar, born and grown up in Kizimkazi, wanted to cope with the continuously increasing interest of the Zanzibari people in solar energy. He worked together with interested and dedicated people from Zanzibar and the German volunteers, and made a lot of different projects possible during the next few years: an educational program for the training of local technicians, who are qualified and able to install and work with the Solar Home Systems, that are now sold in the villages, took place on the weekends in the Haille Selassie School in Stone Town. In 2012 49 local technicians had already been successfully instructed.

The “One light – one child” project, developed by the Indian NGO “Thrive” and carried out on Zanzibar from 2012 to 2014, was educating women to enable them to construct solar lamps by themselves, through which they have the chance to increase their income and also to offer their children who are going to school a healthy and cheaper alternative to the often used kerosene lamps.

A German volunteer of REZA explanes how a solar panel works.

Ramadhan Said Omar realized, that even if there had already been several successful projects, there were still too many villages in the rural areas without access to knowledge about renewable energies and to Solar Home Systems. In 2015 he founded the NGO “REZA”, Renewable Energies Zanzibar Association. Together with his colleagues he started several educational projects in the rural areas of the island and the supply with Solar Home Systems. In the past year alone, they visited 30 villages and 380 Solar Home Systems have been installed. But he also faces a lot of difficulties while trying to spread renewable energy on Zanzibar to change the residents’ life and to make energy consumption more sustainable:

The residents of a small village in the north of Unguja follow the presentation carefully and interested

Fake products: it is hard to find Solar Home Systems which are high quality, but  that have a good capacity and also a cheap price. Which leads to the next problem, which makes it hard to sell good Solar Home Systems: poverty. Too many people in the rural areas can’t afford the payment of a system and its installation in one go, even if in long-term view it would be cheaper for them than buying the lamp oil day by day. This is why at the moment the REZA team is working on a plan how to make it possible also for poor residents to get access to Solar Energy through payment by installments. Ramadhan also mentions another problem: “Awareness and knowledge. The great majority of people don’t know about renewable energy, sustainability and technical issues. For the future there is so much to do, we are still at the beginning!”

Here in Zanzibar solar energy is not only a business with which to gain financial profit. For the people living in the rural areas solar energy is a chance to move away from poverty, because in the long-term view they can save a lot of money which they had to spend on lamp oil previously.

For the environment it is another step towards its protection, and for the communities, a healthy way to access light for studying, socializing, cooking and many other essentials of a sustainable life!

There are now several other solar projects and businesses in Zanzibar – over the year of 2018 we will be looking at them too, to understand the many gains, and also the difficulties people face accessing solar and renewable energy across the islands.

Including fun events into the educational programs helps arousing the interest of many people.