The Pathway to Renewable Off-Grid Community Energy for Development (PROCEED) project concluded with a Final Conference held at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Windhoek on 14 and 15 September 2023.
The high-level closing conference of the four-year project, featured presentations on key findings and recommendations, as well as voices from community members of Tsumkwe and Gam which formed the basis of the PROCEED project.
The PROCEED project examined options for using off-grid hybrid energy systems based on renewable energy sources to establish an efficient and sustainable power supply in the rural areas of Namibia.
The project was supported by the Ministry of Mines and Energy of Namibia and was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). It formed part of the BMBF’s “CLIENT II – International Partnerships for Sustainable Innovations” funding initiative.
The main objectives of PROCEED were to:
- Identify suitable designs for PV-based mini-grids in underserved regions that are;
- Technically up-to-date
- Economically viable
- Easy to operate / maintain and
- Appropriate for the local needs and social context.
- Implement a holistic strategy to ensure the sustainability of these systems and to make rural people “first class citizens”.
- Develop recommendations for action for the acceptance and promotion of off-grid power supply systems.
All PROCEED project activities were done in close cooperation with the Namibian partners – the Namibia Energy Institute (NEI), at NUST, Alensy Energy Solutions Limited and the regional electricity distribution company, CENORED. The Renewable Energy Industry Association of Namibia (REIAoN) contributed its expertise towards the project.
Continuous communication with the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE) ensured that the project was in line with relevant policy agendas.
PROCEED project Leader Professor Dr Wilfried Zörner said the project was born out of the realisation that although rural electrification was gaining traction in Namibia, there was a lack of knowledge regarding the long-term sustainability of off-grid solutions.
“PROCEED was designed to target precisely this scientific gap: by analysing the technical, social and economic sustainability of existing mini-grid systems in selected communities, we strove to better understand current challenges and formulate recommendations for a long-term sustainable operation of such systems,” said Professor Zörner.
He said through PROCEED, the partners were able to gather and analyse significant amounts of data, conduct multiple workshops and trainings, and install a new PV-battery system at the Tsumkwe Secondary School, which helped stabilise the local mini-grid.
Professor Zörner’s sentiments were echoed by the Executive Director in the Ministry of Mines and Energy, Bryan Eiseb, who said the “accomplishments of the PROCEED project unlocked the opportunities for Namibia to enhance secure and cost-effective electricity access for the many un-electrified communities in Namibia”.
Professor Elmar Steurer, from Hochschule Neu-Ulm, said the PROCEED project had “a perfect mixture of representation from the field of science, politics and civil institutions, collaborating and working together for results that were appreciated by everyone”.
Helvi Ileka, Acting Director of NEI, commended the PROCEED project for enabling the analysis of real data in order to establish the existing gaps. However, she lamented the lack of software in Namibia that enables proper analysis of the data collected.
Ileka also said that there was a need for bankable proposals in Namibia that will finance electricity supplied to households in off-grid areas. She emphasised the importance of promoting economic activities in off-grid areas in order to justify the supply of electricity to these areas, as well as enable affordability of the electricity supplied.
Through its partnership component, the GIZ Green People’s Energy (GPE) project supported Work Package 2 of the PROCEED project which dealt with mini-grid economics. Hochschule Neu-Ulm, together with NEI, investigated the development of suitable business models and value chains for the productive use of the generated electricity. GPE support enabled field research at Tsumkwe, Gam and Uutsathima communities. The research focused mainly on women-run enterprises.
The outcome of this research formed part of the recommendations for action which said “the establishment and operation of mini-grids in rural communities should be complemented by capacity building so that the local people can develop vocational and entrepreneurial skills for the productive use of electricity”.
SOME KEY RECOMMENDATIONS
Among the key recommendations for action made by PROCEED is the need to develop a balance regulatory framework for mini-grids. “A regulatory framework should be established that prioritises the coordination and optimisation of mini-grid systems, while ensuring a fair balance between just tariff regimes and electricity business practices”.
A suggestion was made to extend the National Electrification Policy to prioritise the coordination and optimisation of mini-grid systems in Namibia, while ensuring a fair balance between just tariff regimes and electricity business practices.
The project recommended the importance of designing mini-grids that suit realistic energy demands, arguing that oversizing may create stranded costs in early stages. The sustainability of a mini-grid relies on proper dimensioning which requires an in-depth analysis of the community’s current and future electricity demands.
Public engagement and capacity building, through training of local community members, are seen as key in instilling a sense of community ownership of mini-grids as well as encourage effective local participation. Residents of off-grid settlements often lack knowledge on how to use existing natural resources and adding value to them, hence the need to give them access to vocational training programmes.
“Appropriate funding opportunities and loans should be made available to micro entrepreneurs and SMEs to promote the productive use of electricity … A national fund for rural electrification should be set up to facilitate investments into mini-grids,” according to the final recommendations.
Another key recommendation for action was for the establishment of a national fund for rural electrification to facilitate investments into mini-grids. Such a fund would close the gap between cost-recovering mini-grid operation and socially acceptable electricity tariffs, by providing investment funding to mini-grid developers.
Representatives of the Tsumkwe and Gam communities who spoke at the final PROCEED conference also echoed some of the findings of the project.
Virginia Karumbu, a businesswoman from Tsumkwe, said prior to being introduced to the PROCEED project she had very limited knowledge of how mini-grids operate and how to use the electricity generated to grow her business. She said she is now able to diversify her business and make use of electric tools which has helped her increase and improve her production of crafts that she produces.
Likoro Masheshe, a Tsumkwe community leader and representative of the Otjozondjupa Regional Council, said the PROCEED project had helped educate the community to take care of solar installation at Tsumkwe because they realise it’s their only source of their electricity.