SolarAid’s micro solar project in rural Tanzania: Tremendous solar energy potential

EnergyEnvironment and climate change

Notes to broadcasters

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The solar energy potential in Tanzania is tremendous and believed to be underestimated by the global community. However, the initial cost seems to be too high for most people to buy a solar panel. As a result, rural areas in Tanzania cannot take advantage of the light available from solar power. For example, one secondary school in Mafinga District, Iringa Region uses kerosene in laboratory tests, and computers are not used because there is no electricity.

But SolarAid, a UK-based organization is bringing new dreams that perhaps there will be light in rural areas of Tanzania in the near future.

There are a lot of numbers mentioned in this script – 500 Tanzanian shillings, 20,000 shillings, four million shillings, etc. It is not a good idea to include this many numbers in a radio broadcast. Your audience will not remember all the numbers and may lose interest in the program. You can adapt the script by leaving out some of the numbers and making more general arguments. For example, at the end of the script, you could say that, with several thousand students in a school and kerosene at 1000 shillings per student, the money collected would be enough to buy a large solar energy system.

This script is based on actual interviews. You could use this script as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.


Irna Hutabarat works with a UK-based organization called SolarAid. For many years, she has worked to bring solar energy to Africa. Right now she is working in Tanzania. To find out about her work, we sent our reporter Benedict Komba to Mafinga District, Iringa Region, in the southern highlands of Tanzania, where he met Irna and asked her to explain what has been achieved.

In terms of solar energy for schools, we have already provided solar energy systems for two schools in December 2008. Also, we have something very new, a tiny solar panel that an average villager can buy. It is very affordable and very small, and meant to power mobile phones, lights or radios. We are also trying to open a solar assembly facility in rural areas such as Mafinga so that local people in Tanzania will know how to assemble the solar panel. They will have the training to repair solar panels and will also be able to distribute them, so there will be a growing solar industry here in Mafinga. That is what we are trying to do, but we are still in the beginning stage.

Irna says this project has two target groups. The first is schools and the second is local Tanzanians.

In our school project, our target groups are primary schools and secondary schools in Tanzania. The schools are all interested in installing solar technology and informing the local community about solar energy. There are secondary school headmasters such as Mr. Bianchi from Isalavanyu School who are interested in bringing solar energy to his school and in developing a business model that will enable the school to raise the money to maintain the solar energy system for the next twenty years.

Our second target group is local Tanzanians, average Tanzanians who can’t afford a one million shilling solar energy system. Maybe they have only twenty thousand shillings to spend. But, if for twenty thousand shillings they can charge a mobile phone, provide light for their homes, and operate a radio all day, they will buy the product.

Herman Bianchi is the headmaster of Isalavanyu Secondary School in Mafinga. His school is expecting to get solar power from SolarAid’s project. He tells us the situation he is facing now in running the school.

Right now we are using kerosene. We have a kerosene stove in case we conduct tests in the laboratory. We don’t have any other source of power. Most of the activities are done during the day, and during the night students are at home. We don’t have computers; we don’t have laptops or any other electrical equipment. We expect that once we have solar energy, it will assist us in many ways. Right now, if we need a photocopy machine, we must travel twelve kilometres, so there is the cost of fuel for my motorbike back and forth from the photocopy machine. If you want to type a letter, you have to go to the Internet café where you will pay much money.

The price of kerosene is about one thousand shillings per litre. Mr. Bianchi says this is quite expensive.

It costs much money. One test can require about two litres of kerosene. .

It sounds quite expensive to run a school. But households too use kerosene for lighting. Even though kerosene seems expensive, some people think that investing twenty thousand shillings for solar energy is too much. Irna Hutabarat explains about the price.

Price is a big issue in Tanzania. Even twenty thousand shillings is a lot of money for an average villager. At first I thought that it would be very difficult to sell the solar panel. But I was wrong. When I went to a village market in Madibila and people saw what we have, we were selling panels left and right, even to people who you wouldn’t think had the money. If you think about it, there are radios using electrical and battery power all over Mafinga right now. The average cost for three batteries to power a radio is about fifteen hundred shillings. If you replace the batteries every week and add up the cost, in less than four months, someone could afford to buy a solar panel. The same thing with charging a mobile phone. Mr. Bianchi said it costs five hundred shillings to charge a mobile phone. One head teacher told me that in his village there are three thousand working adults, and he estimates that there are two thousand mobile phones. If these adults spend five hundred shillings every five days to charge a mobile phone and you add up these costs, it wouldn’t take long for them to be able to afford the solar panel. So they can afford a mobile phone, they can afford a radio, and they can afford a small solar panel. So definitely the money is there and the price is reasonable.

Igoda Primary school is enjoying solar power from the micro solar power project in Mafinga. Joseph Sapula is the head teacher of this school. According to him, solar power is cheap.

Solar power in rural areas is very important, and it is very cheap to use. The only problem is the initial cost. But once you install it, it is very cheap.

SolarAid charges a small amount to the school for the service. Joseph says that, in order to get that money, schools have to operate small businesses such as charging mobile phones, from which the money will be collected.

We use solar power in the evenings for the students in standard seven and standard four. After going home, they return at seven o’clock in the evening. They come to the school to read, and the teachers help them until eight thirty. Also, many people in the Igoda area come to charge their phones, and they give the school money for that. We send some of this money to SolarAid because we have an agreement with them that the school must pay ten percent of the cost of the solar energy system.

In downtown Mafinga, Irna is demonstrating to small radio vendors how solar energy can be used to power radios.

Short musical break fading under voices

You are going to hear from Loney Lunyungu, Edith Mgani, Felister Mnyeke and Philip Mbaule, whom I met in downtown Mafinga. They are responding to a question on the suitability of solar energy in their areas.

Solar energy is going to help because kerosene is expensive and some of the people cannot afford the service costs for electricity.

I think solar energy will help, especially in rural areas. Even here in town, though there is electricity, not everyone can afford the service cost.

I think solar power is going to help because people who are living in remote areas and in some parts of urban areas are not able to pay for the service charge to bring in electricity to their houses. So solar energy will help them to study and improve themselves.

I think solar energy will help because even batteries are sold at high prices now. Electricity and kerosene are also expensive, so having solar energy will help us a lot.

Let us now hear something very important from Irna Hutabarat on lighting Tanzania using solar energy, which is a clean and carbon free technology.

My strongest desire is to see every village in Tanzania using solar panels. I would love it if everyone used solar energy! Why use disposable batteries instead of solar panels? The price of kerosene is the big issue here. The price goes up and down, up and down, but the cost is quite high. Right now it is about a thousand and fifty shillings, but two months ago it was fifteen hundred shillings per litre. The savings from not buying kerosene will help you afford the solar panel. Right now, many schools are using kerosene for lighting. In the school in Luhunga where we installed solar last month, they charged one thousand shillings per student for kerosene money every month. There are two hundred and fifty students, so that is two hundred and fifty thousand shillings per month just for kerosene! The next term, they may have four hundred students. At one thousand shillings per student per month, that is four hundred thousand shillings per month. In ten months, that would be four million shillings. Four million shillings can buy a big solar energy system for the school.

Music – a song saying welcome and thanks in Swahili


Contributed by: Benedict Komba, Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation, a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner

Reviewed by: Neil Noble, Practical Answers Technical Adviser, Practical Action.

Information sources

Notes on currency exchange:

Five hundred Tanzanian shillings = $0.38 dollars or 0.30 Euros
One thousand Tanzanian shillings = $0.76 US dollars or 0.6 Euros
One thousand and fifty Tanzanian shillings = $0.80 US dollars or 0.63 Euros
Fifteen hundred Tanzanian shillings = $1.15 US dollars or 0.9 Euros
Twenty thousand Tanzanian shillings = $15 US dollars or 12 Euros
Two hundred and fifty thousand Tanzanian shillings = $190 US dollars or 150 Euros
Four hundred thousand Tanzanian shillings = $305 US dollars or 240 Euros
One million Tanzanian shillings = $763 US dollars or 600 Euros
Four million Tanzanian shillings = $3050 US dollars or 2395 Euros
Eight million Tanzanian shillings = $6100 US dollars or 4800 Euros