Tanzania is mapping its potential to generate energy from renewable sources as part of an effort to bridge the East African nation’s electricity deficit.

The project, which began in 2013, will reveal the areas of the country most suited to wind, hydropower and solar energy generation. The $3.4 million project is expected to be completed by 2018.

“The objective is to map resources at the country level rather than carry out site-specific resource assessment,” said Nicholas Keyes, communications officer for the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme (ESMAP), which is funding and running the project.

Keyes said the renewable energy map is expected to influence government policy and attract commercial investment.

Figures released by ESMAP in Dar es Salaam in May show that Tanzania has an abundance of the solar radiation necessary for generating large-scale power year round.

According to Keyes, 83 percent of Tanzania’s land area has annual average radiation of above4.5 units (kilowatt hours), and 14 percent is above 5.5 units.

“This means the solar resource for power generation using solar photovoltaic technologies is viable in most, if not all, the country,” he said.

But making solar power generation financially feasible also depends on factors such as the costs of equipment and financing, he added.

The National Renewable Energy Centre (CENER), a Spanish organisation, has been tasked with validating the findings and translating them into a visual map, known as a Renewable Energy map or RE-map.

Mini-grid potential

Pascal Paulo Munishi, secretary of the Kisiju Pwani village electricity committee in the Coast Region, said the project will boost research in solar power, guide future solar projects and improve installation of solar panels so that they capture maximum sunlight.

Kisiju Pwani boasts what is thought to be the country’s first rural solar mini-grid.  The 12-kilowatt system powers 20 street lights and provides energy for 68 homes, 15 businesses, a sea port, village government offices and two mosques, Munishi said.

It was installed in 2010 with $430,000 from the Norwegian development agency, NORAD.

Munishi said the country suffers from a huge power-access divide. Only around a quarter of the mainland population is connected to the grid. But the map could help shrink the deficit.

“Solar power helps rural communities end the information divide through access to TV, and the communication divide through charging mobile phones. Education and health services also will benefit from the project,” Munishi said.

Hydro under pressure

According to figures published by the Ministry of Energy and Minerals in its roadmap for reforming the electricity supply sector, the country’s installed generation capacity was 1,583 megawatts (MW) in May 2014, and demand for power is growing by 10 to 15 percent each year.  

Around 35 percent of electric power was generated from hydro, with most of the balance from liquid fuel and natural gas. But repeated and prolonged drought has severely impacted Tanzania’s hydro generation capabilities.

Coupled with the limited capacity of the gas processing and transmission infrastructure, this has led to power rationing, especially in areas served by the main grid.

Presently the power industry is dominated by the state-owned Tanzania Electric Supply Company Limited (TANESCO). Three small private power producers generate up to 10 MW from renewable energy sources, and more private projects are at the development stage.

The government aims to add 100 MW of solar power, 200 MW of wind power, 200 MW of geothermal and 1,500 MW of hydro power by 2025, as part of a 9,300 MW increase in capacity.

Solar costs fall

Oliver Knight, ESMAP’s team leader, said Tanzania would have to consider issues such as population density, sensitive wildlife species and proximity to transport networks when deciding where best to encourage commercial development of areas with abundant sources of renewable energy.

Developers would be attracted by a well-informed government with clearly stated zoning guidance, which enhances the bankability of projects, shortens project timelines, and reduces the risk profile of the investment, Knight noted.

Figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) show the costs of solar power production have been falling.

While solar power using photovoltaic technology cost $4,000 per kilowatt in 2010, that figure is projected to drop by 75 percent to $1,000 by 2050.

In a report earlier this year, IRENA said it had observed significant cost reductions for renewable infrastructure in Africa in recent years, underscoring the benefits of renewable energy and the important of active policy support to governments.

“African governments can lower costs for building renewable-energy facilities by benchmarking local methods to global best practices,” IRENA said.

This article is published in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation trust.org. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Mohamed Issa is a contributing writer for Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Image: A prototype sun tracking solar panel made by Concentrix Solar collects energy. February 10, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake.