Interview with SincronicityAfricaPower

Who are your customers?

SincronicityAfricaPower’s customers are in the first instance telecom tower owners or telecom companies, (by securing safe clean reliable power to these ‘anchor’ towers, the surrounding community can benefit.) We feel it is so important to build a resilient, reliable power supply. Access to power is only useful when it is constant and reliable, and since the telecom companies demand such high reliability, the surrounding community also gets to benefit. Excess power can then be used to drive irrigation pumps, provide off grid power to schools, hospitals and street lighting, and enable the creation of small businesses around milling, grinding, lighting for shopkeeping and many more entrepreneurial activities. We also supply our solar home system adapted for life in rural Tanzania.

Solar home system – what does it mean?

These solar home systems with no deposit, no fee, are financed through PAYG. They give homes light,  and the ability to charge mobile phones and the ability to upgrade and add on appliances over time.  Access to solar power revolutionizes the home. Firstly the cost of candles and kerosene is immediately offset, as is the cost and time involved in charging mobile phones.  Health-wise, the air is clean, free of kerosene pollutants and particles and smell, and the light from solar lighting is of course much stronger and constant. Families can gather to cook and study by the light much later into the evening, and feel more secure. Women in particular are most positively effected since the time saved can be directed into more profitable activity, raising the family income and improving  living conditions.

What challenges are faced on a daily basis without access to power?

In rural Tanzania, much time is spent fetching and carrying water, finding  firewood, and cooking over open fires. For those with mobile telephones, charging the phone is often a day’s walk to the  nearest town, these are just some examples of the challenges women in particular face in rural Tanzania without access to modern energy and power.

What is the power situation like in rural Tanzania?

Tanzania has a main grid covering large urban areas, and several independant mini-grids, privately owned, but there are vast tracts of rural Tanzania with no access to power at all. The government aims to achieve a 100% electrification rate by 2030, and move away from reliance on Hyrdo Electric Power, (recent droughts have compounded the generation of power in this way.)  However, the grid is unreliable, with frequent “black-outs”. Unreliable power supplies are estimated to reduce GDP growth in Africa by 2%. Agriculture is still the most important industry but suffers from low infrastructure and poor access to power for irrigation, primary processing and refridgeration.  The government of Tanzania has created a dedicated fund for the provision of communication in very rural areas, the programme is called UCSAF- Universal Communication Services Access Fund, and you can find out more here In summary it ensures telecom coverage for even the most remote areas, which can act as anchors for the onward provision of other off-grid power services. A solar home system for households is a key part of our offering to improve rural electrification, and improve lives in rural Tanzania.

Tell us about one of your customers …

Mama Angela Chikando, although living on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam in a peri-urban setting, faces the daily challenge of life without electricity.  Power is available at the main road and indeed some buildings half way into her new-build housing area are connected to the grid, but most go without power, because the first builder has to fund the erection of the necessary poles to carry the electricity to “their street”. Since the second, third and subsequent connections are much lower cost, only the wealthiest initiate this process.

We were introduced to Mama Angela Chikando, she has owned her plot for  a few years and started building 5 years ago. Her single story house is nearly completed: comprising a large living area; three bedrooms (one ensuite) and a kitchen. A corrugated iron roof is completed; doors and windows installed, floors tiled but with ceilings installed to only a single room, which was the first room built. The remaining rooms are open to the rafters and awaiting funds for ceilings, after which the “family” bathroom will be

What can she do now, that she couldn’t do before, thanks to her solar home system?

Although Mama Angela Chikando is rightfully proud of her new 21st century house; she reverts to 19th century kerosene lamps and candles for lighting as soon as night falls. Now, at a flick of a switch, she has 21st century lighting; powered by environmentally responsible renewable solar energy- her very own solar home system.

The solar home system we installed comprises of 3  lights as part of a tier 1 PAYG system. The main (and brightest) light was positioned over the lounge; a second light in the kitchen and the third in the corridor leading to the bedrooms, with light spilling through the over door “window lights” to give a soft glow in the bedrooms.  Two USB ports allow her and her son to charge their mobile phones.

The 15W solar panel sits on the roof outside the kitchen, and Mama proudly displays the control and battery box in a corner of her living room where the 5 blue LEDS provide a comforting glow, indicating that she is starting the evening with a full charge.

How does she finance her electricity?

Mama Angela Chikando’s house has been built with full electrics installed in every room, but without a grid connection. She has been quoted a connection fee of 4,000,000 Tsh (about $1,800) as 4 poles will need be erected to reach her house. The bank will not extend her mortgage to cover this fee because unlike the loan to build the house; the connection fee produces no tangible assets to act as collateral. A loan will only be available when the original mortgage is paid down. By contrast our entry level system is installed with no connection fee nor deposit, just payment of the initial weekly PAYG fee.

Working each day in Dar es Salaam (90 minutes by bus) Mama Angela Chikando is a heavy user of her phone paying 500 Tsh each day to have it recharged and her 15 year old son has a second phone limited to two charges per week at a total cost of 4,500 Tsh ($2/week) per week.

Thus her 5,000 Tsh weekly fee is almost entirely covered by the 4,500 Tsh saved on mobile charging; plus a further 4,000 Tsh saved on candles and kerosene. After 18 months, Mama Angela Chikando has the option of owning the system out-right or upgrading to 2 more lights and a TV. Now that Mama Chikando has calculated her savings are more than her weekly 5,000 Tsh, she is considering up-grading earlier and adding more lights for a slightly higher fee.

Tell us about SincronicityAfricaPower – what is the aim?

By combining SincroSiteWatch with AfricaPowerLtd, our new joint-venture company JV Sincronicity Africa Power (SAfP) combines the  full force of our combined solar & telecom technical know-how, field maintenance crews, in-territory expertise especially in rural communities, and clean tech expertise, plus a proven track record in engineering in these challenging conditions.  By converting  diesel powered telecom tower generators to solar power in really rural areas of Tanzania, the JV is focussed on the productive use of off-grid power, and offers a full suite of solar solutions to communities, businesses and homes, including a full solar home system and appliances.

Find out more about our work in Tanzania here

Find out more about the BBOXX BB7 Kit we used at Mama Chikado’s house.