Company Zara Solar of Tanzania won first prize in the Africa Award category of the world’s leading green energy awards this year. All award winners, including Zara Solar representative Mohamedrafik A. Parpia, were received at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London by former US Vice President Al Gore. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, Patron of the Ashden Awards personally congratulated them in a separate private ceremony.
Zara Solar provide high-quality, reliable solar-home-systems to areas in the North of Tanzania around Mwanza particularly those which are not connected to the electrical grid. They estimate that only 10% of the Tanzanian population have access to the electricity grid, and in rural areas only 2% have access, leaving people dependant on kerosene for lighting, and with great difficulty to charge mobile phones, which are increasingly a vital form of communication for business and normal life.
The upfront cost of PV systems is a major obstacle to many of the rural poor and there is also the problem of many small shops offering cheap, low quality PV modules which are made to look like well known good quality brands but fail after a short time. Zara Solar Ltd is working hard to overcome these obstacles by helping people identify ‘fake’ equipment and by providing people with high quality yet affordable solar PV systems. As one customer puts it: “I am very pleased with the lights and radio from the one-panel system I bought from Zara Solar, so I have come back to buy another. Before I came to Zara I had bought a cheap panel from another dealer which did not work, it was a waste of money.”
PV is particularly suitable in rural areas since here, because of the poor road access, the cost of kerosene is high. For a typical family using 6-9 litres/month this represents a monthly cost of 12,000 to 18,000 Tsh (£4.80 to £7.20), a substantial burden in a region where the minimum employed wage is only 50,000 Tsh (£20) a month. From savings on kerosene alone, Zara Solar estimate their customers in rural areas could pay back the cost of a PV system in less than two years.
Several customers of Zara Solar are earning extra income from their solar PV systems, due in part to the UNDP having provided 60% grants to people buying the equipment to set up or support a small business. A number of bars and cafes use their solar PV to operate lights and a TV, attracting more customers and increasing their trade. Other applications include health centres and schools.
To date, Zara Solar have sold over 3,600 solar systems. In order to reach more remote areas, they use a network of trained local technicians that can service their own local customer base as well as providing customers with sufficient training to maintain the system properly once installed. The main limitation on future growth is the availability of consumer finance. Zara Solar is hoping to address this by exploring various micro-finance packages which will give the rural poor the chance to pay back the cost of the system over time.