Samwel Nyakalege’s life has recently become more of a grind – and that’s a good thing.
The 33-year-old miller from Bwisya village, on Lake Victoria’s Ukara Island, is one of the first to benefit from a project to bring solar power to residents and business-owners.
The entrepreneur, married with four children, has worked grinding millet, maize, rice and beans since 2007, but the high cost of fuel for his diesel generator made it hard to turn a profit.
“I used to buy a liter of diesel for up to 3,000 Tanzanian shillings (about $1.40) and I needed at least 50 liters every week to run the generator. My business could hardly grow,” Nyakalege told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
But with the arrival of the first-ever solar-powered mini-grid at Bwisya, launched by JUMEME, a rural power supply company with government backing, Nyakalege has enough energy to run his power-hungry business – and no longer needs costly and polluting generators.
Cheaper power, in fact, means that he can expand his company.
“Solar power is a blessing to us as we can now serve more customers quicker and efficiently,” he said. “I don’t spend a penny to buy diesel. My motors work very efficiently using solar electricity.”
Around the world, as the costs of solar energy plunge, it is increasingly being used to power industry and businesses, a huge step forward from simply supplying lighting and basic electrical power in places like Tanzania, experts say.
Nyakalege, for instance, now uses solar power to operate his three milling machines simultaneously. He has employed three people to help him and has seen his customer base rise to 600 a day.
His income also has grown as a result, from less than 100,000 shillings a day on average (about $45) to 400,000 shillings now.
He is now contemplating getting a bank loan to expand his business, he said.
The solar system at Bwisya is part of a project to provide reliable and affordable electricity to the nearly 2,000 households and more than 200 businesses on Ukara, in order to boost opportunities to earn an income.
It is the first of 30 such systems JUMEME plans to install over the next two years. They are expected to supply power to around 100,000 people, company officials said.
The company has even bigger plans for the longer-term, they said.
“Our goal is to set up 300 systems and serve up to 1 million people in rural areas across Tanzania by 2022, making JUMEME the largest mini-grid operator in the country,” said Thadeus Mkamwa, one of the company’s directors.
The project, jointly funded by the European Union and private investors with political support from the Tanzanian government , has a total budget of 38.4 billion shillings ($17.6 million).