3 Reasons Why People in Tanzania Are Going Off-Grid

Welcome to the cradle of off-grid solar innovation

Power Africa’s Beyond the Grid partners like Mobisol help bring off-grid and small-scale energy solutions to families and businesses across Africa. / Rachel Couch for Power Africa

Arusha, a city in northern Tanzania, is home to the most innovative household solar companies in the world — Mobisol and Off-Grid Electric (now known as “Zola”).

People here are not just connecting their homes to solar panels, but in some cases they’re actually disconnecting themselves from the electrical grid.

Why? First, the grid is not dependable. Frequent power outages mean that businesses get interrupted and televisions turn off just as the winning goal is about to be scored.

Second, new solar-charged and affordable “super efficient” appliances are being developed and improved every day — televisions that draw only 7 watts of DC power instead of 250 watts of AC power. Or a clothing iron that draws 80 watts of DC power instead of 1800 watts of power like the one you have in your home.

And third, once people own their systems and their appliances, they no longer have to pay for power. No more getting utility bills every month.

The competition in Arusha and East Africa is driving unprecedented innovation and people need to pay attention. Mobisol customers now can power televisions, electric razors, clothing irons, boom boxes and sewing machines with small solar panels.

We’re not just talking about light bulbs and lanterns anymore. For the first time, Mobisol customers are powering welding and pipe cutting equipment, water pumps, and egg incubators with their solar panels. They are running businesses without grid dependence.

They don’t need the grid. And as the demand for additional appliances grows, the drive towards super-efficiency is expanding, which means fewer carbon emissions.

While nobody has figured out how to defy the rules of physics to use solar panels to boil water in an efficient manner, Mobisol uses fans that make cookstoves more efficient and that reduce the amount of wood needed.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, 600 million people lack access to electricity. Power Africa, a U.S. Government-led initiative to double access to electricity in the region, is tackling this grave deficit by helping the private sector drive the growth. The private sector’s creativity and access to capital is creating nearly limitless opportunities.

The grid cannot get to every one of these households quickly enough, so they’re not waiting for the grid to come. They’re taking matters into their own hands. They’re connecting solar panels and appliances immediately with no government involvement.

This off-grid space is a giant business incubator.
Photo by Andrew Herscowitz, Power Africa

Since Power Africa was launched in 2013, our off-grid partners have added more than 2.5 million new electrical connections, and that number grows by the thousands each month. Each of those connections offers a new model for low carbon emissions and super efficiency.

A barber using a solar-powered Mobisol clipper in Rwanda can reliably trim the heads of dozens of clients a day without having to worry about the power being cut. Compare that with an on-the-grid barber in Lagos, Nigeria, whose power gets cut and has to shut down his business until it comes back on.

It’s no wonder that people are opting to disconnect from the unreliable grid and take matters into their own hands with readily available solar systems they can manage themselves.

Pay attention: The options for powering your home and business are changing, and the innovations that are taking place in rural areas of Africa will create opportunities to transform the power sector in homes across the planet.

A Mobisol employee in Rwanda demonstrates the company’s solar-powered electricity system. / Rachel Couch for Power Africa

About the Author

Andrew Herscowitz is the Coordinator for Power Africa. Follow him on Twitter @aherscowitz. Follow Power Africa on Facebook and Instagram.

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