Business is booming.

Solar powered mini-grids to light up Areza and Maidma

The Government of Eritrea has embarked on a project to provide modern, affordable and sustainable energy to previously off-grid villages and rural towns of Areza and Maidma in Debub region. Areza is about 40 kms and Maidma is 57 kms South West of Medefera, the administration capital of Debub.

The project targets to service over 40,000 residents: 40 villages, over 513 small enterprises, 15 schools, 2 kindergartens, 2 community hospitals, 5 health stations and 80 organizations. The €11.7M project provides a model for replication in other parts of Eritrea. It is implemented by the Ministry of Energy and Mines and supported by UNDP and the European Union.

According to Mengis Zemichael, the administrator of Sub-zoba Areza, power generation will be commissioned by the end of the month. He said that the community has been involved in activities such as digging holes and putting up electricity posts. They work seven days a week starting from 7.00 am. “Areza residents are so excited about the project, that even on market days they work from the crack of dawn to around 9.00 am, then they go to the market. They only rest on Sundays.” He added.

Solarcentury, a UK based international solar company, designed and built two solar powered mini-grids using solar PV & lithium batteries. The two sites at Areza (1.5 acres) and Maidma (2.5 acres) showcase the use of solar hybrid power systems to provide grid quality power to rural populations. Tesfai Ghebrehiwet, project manager, Ministry of Energy and Mines, said that the Areza plant has the capacity for generating 1.5 megawatts (solar PV) and 600 kilowatts (generator). The Maidma plant can generate 1 megawatts (solar PV) and 400 kilowatts (generator). The two sites were selected because they are off grid and are densely populated.

Eritrea Electricity Corporation is handling power supply. Electrical engineers work alongside the community, advising on the specifications and providing guidance on safety precautions. Engineer Filipos Tsegai has been in Areza for the last two and half months. He is part of the 12- member team that will take over the management of the project from Solarcentury. “Though the control system is different, and the use of Tesla batteries is new technology, I have lots of experience in home solar systems and the 2 megawatts solar energy project in Asmara. I am sure we will manage the project very well.” He is very confident that most of the homes will be lit by the end of the month.

Maidma restaurant owner Kuhulo Kidane (36) and mother of five is excited about the project. She is currently using a diesel generator, spending 3000 Nakfa (USD 200) every week to power the refrigerator and for lighting. She also spends an additional 5,000 Nakfa (USD 333) per month on firewood. Having electricity means that she can use the electric oven to bake injera and can power all her appliances, reducing her current costs substantially. Her husband runs a garage and uses two diesel generators. He spends over 6000 Nakfa (USD 400) per week. With electricity, the family will be able to save and expand their businesses.

Berekti Kibreab (35), mother of 5, has high expectations. She runs a government savings and credit scheme and uses a rechargeable small solar kit at home. She looks forward to watching TV with the family, using an oven and fridge in her kitchen and her children can study and do homework at night. “Once I get electricity in my house, I will throw out the rechargeable one!” she exclaimed.

Johani Berhe (75), community elder, runs a bed and breakfast lodging (pension). He has 40 rooms in his establishment and uses a solar system (panels and two batteries) for lighting only. He recently bought new batteries at 24,000 Nakfa (USD 1600). Once they install electricity, he will evaluate which one is more economical for his establishment.

Overall, the project will improve the livelihoods of the rural population through increased sources of income and access to social services. It contributes to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy) while also addressing other SDGs like the economic SDGs 1, 2, 3, 4, and, SDG13 (climate action). In addition, the project is also anticipated to reduce carbon emissions by 3,000 tons annually.

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