March 8, 2006

Massive solar project targets 88 villages

A massive solar-based rural electrification of at least 88 villages is expected to be rolled out countrywide in the middle of 2006. Finance Minister Baledzi Gaolathe announced the P34 million National Rural Photovoltaic Electrification Programme during the 2005-2006 budget. He noted that the aim of the project was to improve access to energy services in rural areas and promote the use of renewable energy. The five-year programme is intended to help households to acquire solar power systems on affordable terms. It is jointly sponsored by the government (P19 million) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (P15 million). Government has previously dabbled in solar-based projects though with little success. The most ambitious of these is the forerunner project to the current one. It was administered through the Rural Industries Promotions Company (RIPCO) and it ran from 1997-2001. It has been reviewed and reintroduced in the present format mentioned by Gaolathe in the budget.

Kesetsenao Molosiwa, the principal energy officer in the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources attributed the apparent failure of the earlier project to poor repayment rate since it operated as a revolving fund. According to him, the programme will target villages that are unlikely to be serviced by the BPC national grid network at least in the next 10 years. The other major criterion for the potential beneficiaries is population and location or buffer zone. "For the village to be selected for PV, it must be a minimum distance of 15 km from existing and future grid network. It must also have a population of between 250 and 1.200 households," Molosiwa said. The government will fund 80 percent of the total cost of the equipment installed. The client then pays only 20 percent of the costs. He disclosed that the package includes the PV Panels and Battery Bank, Solar Water Heating System (geysers) and LP Gas with a cooker. "The PV can do almost everything that a client wants. It is just a matter of affordability. The more equipment you install, the more the output. Even the autonomy period (when there is no sunshine) is also dependent on the capacity of the battery bank." (Mmegi/The Reporter, Gabarone)

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