Promoting Productive Use of Energy in Off-Grid Communities

A sustainable and reliable electricity supply is a basic prerequisite for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Off-grid photovoltaic systems represent a pragmatic solution for the development of rural areas, as they can close the gaps in electricity supply far more quickly and cost-effectively compared to grid expansion.

The Namibia Energy Institute (NEI), together with the University of Applied Sciences Neu-Ulm (HNU), have been implementing a partnership project aimed at promoting the productive use of solar-generated electricity as well as capacity building in the two rural communities of Tsumkwe and Uutsathima. The collaboration between HNU and NEI was partly funded under the partnership component of the GIZ-Green People’s Energy (GPE) project. The GPE partnership component aims to bring together actors in Africa and Europe to work on topics that contribute to the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals.

Thus, through its partnership component GPE supported Work Package 2 of the PROCEED project which dealt with mini-grid economics. The University of Applied Sciences 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 the NEI to participate in the field research at Tsumkwe, Gam and Uutsathima communities. The research focused mainly on women-run enterprises.

The NEI-HNU partnership project aimed to shed light on both the consumers’ perspective (demand side) and the operator’s perspective (supply side) of decentralised electricity by answering the following questions:

  1. How can productive use be enhanced?
  2. How can electricity suppliers be stimulated to increase investments into solar mini-grids?

A final stakeholder workshop was held at NUST, on 9 August, which presented the final results and business models identified for implementation in the two communities of Uutsathima and Tsumkwe to regional electricity distributors, the local authorities and carefully selected stakeholders from various government, diplomatic, developmental community, business support organisations and the business community.

NEI Acting Director Helvi Ileka said the NEI and Business Development Consultant Tulimeyo Kaapanda, recently embarked on a trip to Tsumkwe and Uutsathima to identify productive use of electricity using local resources and to provide training to local entrepreneurs.

Ileka emphasised that electricity was an enabler which could help the communities of Tsumkwe and Uutsathima to be involved in more business ventures and generate more income.

She said the Tsumkwe settlement has an established business landscape consisting of mini-markets, a lodge, a fuel station and open market. The settlement also has a mini-grid, however, this was not operating optimally and was struggling to cope with the increased demand and needs to be expanded to cater for the increased demand.

Some of the business activities at Tsumkwe that could be boosted with better access to electricity are; leather making from goat and cattle skin, grain milling (mahangu and maize), production of marula oil and Kalahari melon seed oil, production of animal feed from the press residues, jam making from the etanga/eliwa melon, poultry farming, biogas production, paper making from mahangu stalks, butchery, bakery, tailoring and other services (e.g. hair salon, barber shop, printing, and photocopying).

San craft businesses, such as hand-made jewellery, could also benefit from the use of electrical tools, while other small-scale manufacturing businesses such as leather processing, leather sewing, knitting clothes, joinery and carpentry, metal fabrication, and welding also stood to benefit.

Ileka said solar technicians and electricians could also benefit from job opportunities and involvement is services such as manufacture solar cookers.

“Clearly these communities are ready to implement some business ideas. Some of the community members are already in business, and have some basic understanding of entrepreneurship. There is a need to engage possible donors, host a briefing session, purchase some key equipment and set up some start up as pilots under the guidance of the business consultant,” said Ileka.

Business Development Consultant Kaapanda in her presentation on the “Assessment of existing gaps and opportunities in Tsumkwe and Uutsathima”, said the communities were largely willing to implement various business ideas, but added that there was a need to engage donors to assist in setting up some start up as pilots.

Kaapanda said that most existing businesses also needed assistance to purchase some key equipment.

Virginia Karumbu & N!unka Bo, from Tsumkwe, are entrepreneurs involved in the crafts and jewellery business. Karumbu said she now wants to venture into ostrich farming and establish a campsite at Tsumkwe.

She said through the GIZ GPE project, she has learnt the importance of having quality products and attractive packaging. The small business owners were provided with a platform to showcase their value added products.

Karumbu said the ability to use electrical tools had also improved her business.

“When making ostrich jewellery we used to use hands to make holes and rocks to smoothen them. Now we are able to use a grinder and a drill machine which makes the job easier and faster,” she told Etango.

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