Villagers in the remote area of Kendwa in North Unguja have every reason to smile after a solar power project was installed in their neighborhood, thanks to sponsorship from the Government of India, through its Consul General in Zanzibar, Mr Pawan Kumar.
Hailing the project as affordable and easy to instal, Mr Haroun Ali Suleiman, the legislator for Makunduchi in South Unguja, was so impressed that he recommended that the same initiative be extended to benefit his constituents. The solar power project in Zanzibar, whose main source is heat from the sun, is quite a simple undertaking that requires none other than women who have not had formal education, to become the technicians manning the project.
In just two months, the women who were trained in India have managed to connect 80 households with power. And according to the women technicians, the North Unguja project's target is to instal solar panels and lamps in about 400 households.
This by far, is a great achievement worth emulating throughout the country. Solar power is, however, a new technology, much as we have seen its use for quite some time. In Dar es Salaam, for example, solar power use is limited to traffic lights only.
Apart from Ubungo, Tazara and Kijitonyama traffic lights, no solar power is seen to be much of a known source of energy. Yet, power shortage and outages have been a nightmare to city residents, as the Tanzania Electric Supply Company (TANESCO) continues to dominate the power market, with its main sources being water and gas.
The two sources have been either erratic or too expensive. That is one important factor the economy of the country has been grappling with for too long. Fortunately, the country is blessed with plenty of minerals. Some of them like coal, may be used in the production of electricity.
But even if the country finds this kind of production too expensive to develop for the benefit of the majority poor, here is another alternative, plenty of sunshine from where we can tap solar power. However, due to a great deal of reliance on hydro and thermo power, solar power is generally graded as just another source of energy.
There is not much concentration on this resource even as its potential is higher and more viable than TANESCO's power. The Rural Energy Electrification Programme, for example, also relies on hydro and thermo electricity and even seeks to connect villages to the national grid, rather than concentrate on solar power, whose source is readily available in every corner of the country.
Already there are electric appliances like fridge, cooker, lantern and even laptop manufactured to be conventional with solar power specifications, but they don't really offer a viable alternative as they are indeed not affordable. Something ought to be done.
If the aim is to provide the majority with an alternative source of energy and here there is plenty of it, policy and decision makers need to join forces and change their strategies. Time is now for Tanzania to change to solar power as a cheap source of energy. There is no point talking about development while we have not been able to tap all available resources. In this, we hope energy experts are following events closely.