Mobisolís solar energy systems Offer best solution to electricity access challenges in rural Rwanda

With the Mobisol Solar energy system, Mukarurangwa now watches TV and her grandchildren can revise their notes in a better manner with the improved lighting

Currently, access to electricity in Rwanda is recorded at about 18% of the general populace but according to the government’s projections in the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy second phase (EDPRS II), 70% of households in Rwanda should have access by the year 2017.

But clearly the odds against grid solutions in delivering this ambitious target are so high, hence the need for ensuring a mix of solutions including off grid answers to the challenge.

According to Rwanda Energy Group’s Chief Executive Mugiraneza Jean Bosco, off grid solutions to increasing access to electricity and boosting generation are expected to deliver about 28% of the projected 70% access and 563MW capacity by 2017.

Given the ambitious target of what is expected from both off grid and grid energy solutions, Mr. Mugiraneza shared that the group which brings together two companies charged with generation and distribution of electricity, is partnering with various stakeholders in the energy sector and constantly looking out for new technologies to ensure faster and cost effective means to deliver energy to Rwandans.

But as of current, the solar energy solution presented by Mobisol, a Germany company invested in clean energy generation projects, beats any other off grid plan for addressing the limited access to electricity than any before it.

In partnership with REG and the European Union, Mobisol has designed a solar energy solution codenamed “Prepaid Energy. Rent to Own Solar Home Systems”.

The project, which has received support of over Euros 6million and has the backing of the Rwandan government through REG has so far benefited over 2000 people in the Eastern Province districts of Bugesera and Rwamagana.

One of the beneficiaries to the “Prepaid Energy, Rent to Own Solar Home Systems”, 56 year old Mukarurangwa Emenance is a resident of Gishari Sector in Rwamagana district.

A widow of the genocide who after the mayhem in 1994 was left to bring up her four children all by herself save for the support in academic requirements for the children courtesy of the Rwandan government, Mukarurangwa has always admired homes with power but conceded to the fact that she did not have the financial muscle to attain the same for her household.

However in a twist of events during a visit to a friend in Bugesera, she noticed a neighboring house that had electricity in a place she knew very well had no access to the grid.

Either it was another burning but not consuming bush story of Moses in the Bible, or this household had got a solution that may be a little in her reach too.

“When I visited them, they were using solar energy. I then asked for details about the system which is when I was told it came from a company called Mobisol and that they were to pay back in installments.”

Meanwhile back home in Rwamagana, the Mobisol team had begun scouting the area for interested customers during which activities Mukarurangwa was also visited, told about the system and how she could get one too.

Following the visit, Mukarurangwa confides that she begun to see electricity in her house, a dream come true! and thus was determined to make it happen no matter what.

The rest of what happened is history but today, in Ruhimbi village amidst neighbors who still use candles to get light in their homes, Mukarurangwa has electricity lighting even in her kitchen.

Her solar system which has a 100 W capacity panel, according to Klaus Maier, EU Project Manager Mobisol, has the capacity to power a TV set, radio, over five lights and during sunny days can run a domestic refrigerator.

The partnership brings the cost lower

On an unsubsidized rate, Mukarurangwa’s solar system costs about Frw600,000 which can be paid in monthly installments over a period of three years.

However following the partnership of the three stakeholders, Mr. Maier said that the cost of a 100 W capacity panel like Mukarurangwa’s will significantly reduce, and make it possible for more rural households to afford the systems.

Thomas Gottschalk, the Chief Executive of Mobisol Rwanda concurs with Maier that given the support of the Rwandan government and the EU, the solar systems will become more affordable.

“Now that we have partners as strong as the Rwandan government and the European Union, we believe that our systems are going to become more affordable. What we can promise is that we will ensure sustainable supply such that we meet any demand that may arise at any one point,” Gottschalk said during an event to officially launch the prepaid system in the Eastern Province district of Rwamagana on November 11th.

Mobisol’s solar systems present a sustainable off grid solution to connectivity challenges

According to the project plan for the prepaid solar system, Mobisol intends to connect 49,000 households and 1,000 schools across the country to this sustainable source of energy in four years.

As an off grid solution, Gottschalk noted that its cost is almost ten times cheaper than what it would take for a household to get a grid connection to electricity in Rwanda.

“This is a cheaper and effective way of connecting more households to electricity in the shortest time possible.”

According to REG, achieving the 70% access to electricity and reaching the 563MW capacity that the government targets by the year 2017 solutions like Mobisol’s are a necessity.

But the project’s effectiveness at delivering off grid solutions to the inadequate access to electricity in Rwanda exceeds just the reduced cost of making a connection.

Considering Mobisol’s terms of sell, which allow a customer to pay their system over a three year period; it entitles a customer to free technical support over the period and a replacement in case of irreparable damage.

With this kind of arrangement, a customer is assured of continued support and for the rural households which are the major targets of the project; this element of technical support constitutes all the difference.

“Here in the village, it is hard to get anyone who can repair such sophisticated devices. We are happy that they are always close by to give us support whenever these gadgets have any faults,” Innocent Kalinda, a local at the launch who said had also bought the system shared.

To reinforce this technical preparedness, Mobisol runs an academy in Nyamata, Bugesera district from where technicians are trained on how to repair and manage the system.

Also, to further ensure that a customer gets the support they deserve, the solar system has enough memory capacity that makes accessing it remotely possible.

“Even before a customer reports a problem, we will have seen it already,” Gottschalk shared.

But above and beyond, the fact that the purchase arrangements are on installment basis makes it a necessity for both the buyer and the seller that the system is up and running because if not, then the customer would have no reason to pay.

One can use the solar system to pay back the Mobisol credit

For families that cannot afford paying back the solar systems supplied by Mobisol in a single installment, the company has devised the prepaid, rent-to-own sort of arrangement.

But still many locals like Emmanuel Karangwa, also of Gishari sector in Rwamagana district say that the systems are on the high end.

“Everyone would gladly opt for the solar system but it is quite expensive. Many of us are not in position to raise that much money for the systems.”

But considering Maier’s and Mukarurangwa’s opinions on the cost of the systems, all one needs is being interested and the rest is possible.

“As a widow with kids to bring up, I always thought that it would never be possible for me to afford an electricity connection. However, the moment I resolved that it was a priority, I never looked back and now I can watch TV from my house,” Mukarurangwa said.

Expounding on how easy it is to pay back the Mobisol solar system, Mr. Maier said “it pays for itself”.

The solar system comes with a devise caled the mobi charger which allows the owner to charge more than 10 phones or other gadgets at a time.

In Mukarurangwa’s case, she has already begun charging phones of her neighbors each at Frw200, 100 francs cheaper than they originally would be cost for the same job in the nearby trading centre.

“Now I tell them (my neighbors) that there is no reason to travel far and leave their phones in risky places like barber shops when I can charge for them.”

She is now optimistic that with money made from charging phones supplementing any she might raise from other sources, paying her installments to own the solar system that runs in her house will be less burdening.

Yet still, the system was been build such that it can support various devises like a solar hair cutting machine.

According to Maier, for interested customers, Mobisol can provide gadgets for a solar powered barber shop, village cinema, which can propel them into establishing such small businesses not only to repay the solar system but also to supplement their income while meeting day to day needs in their neighborhoods.

With the payment challenge solved through installment purchase, technical requirements met with the training of technicians to support customers on a day to day basis, and payment made easier by incorporating a business perspective in the solar system; “Mobisol’s prepaid energy: rent to own solar system” is this far the best solution to supplement Rwanda’s efforts of increasing electricity connectivity in rural areas and facilitate the alleviation of poverty.

  • By MATTHEW RWAHIGI
  • Posted 25th November 2014

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