ENGIE PowerCorner operates 8 solar mini-grids in Tanzania, with 4 additional mini-grids in consturction, as well as 1 mini-grid in Zambia. ENGIE has huge ambitions in becoming a leading comapny in energy services in rural areas, enabling the economic and social development of local popualtions, while using renewable energies.
Chinunda Rural Health Centre is the main health care facility in Chitandika, Eastern Provice, Zambia, servicing at least 20 villages in a radius of 20 km. The average demand of the Chitandika village is 22.5 kW and around 2 kW for the health care facility. Chinunda Rural Health Centre had initially received support from USAID and Churches Association of Zambia (CHAZ) in the construction of a maternity & mothers shelter, and some solar panels to power up the administration block. When ENGIE PowerCorner installed the mini-grid in Chitandika, the Chinunda Rural Health Centre, through the District Health Office, formally made a request to be connected to the mini-grid to supply power to the maternity ward, general wards, administration block and staff houses. The health care facility claimed that the solar panels previously placed at the administration block were not sufficient for the provision of health services, especially at night (i.e. in the maternity ward, where nurses would use phone lights for deliveries and manual suction pumps for complicated births). Similarly, the panels did not provide enough electricity to maintain and operate Smart Care, an online programme used by the Ministry of Health (MoH) for health record filing.
ENGIE PowerCorner Zambia escalated its engagement to the highest offices in the district and province to obtain the necessary buy-in and commitments to ensure timely payments for the connections. Community consultations were carried out to gather information of the power ratings for all connection bundles as well as of the tariff prior to installation works, to enable customers make informed decisions. ENGIE has a strict adherence to health and safety for all its employees and customers. As such, monthly trainings are held for these and other customer queries. A local operator is also trained to provide reliable customer services and basic maintenance. The solution was a 28.35 kWp smart solar photovoltaic (PV) mini-grid, with 96 kWh of battery storage and a three phase distribution grid of 9 km. The solution also includes smart metering and cloud-based supply, as well as demand side management and a payment platform.
The total cost of the project was EUR 250,000, comprising mainly equity (70%) and a small grant (30%). The business model has a focus on the productive use of electricity, enabling the unlocking of the economic potential of rural communities. Smart metering and the cloud-based payment platform greatly limits operation and management costs, such as logistics and fault resolution. All customers have access to electricity by topping up their pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) meter. The system is owned by ENGIE PowerCorner Zambia.
Since the installation of the mini-grid, the quality of the health services for the region has significantly increased, with better maternity care for pregnant women. Through the power generated from the mini-grid, several fridges have also been able to be electrified, allowing for the storage of vaccines and medicine, and saving lives thanks to the timely administration of medicine in case of illness or accident. Finally, the Chitandika Health Centre has been able to retain and attract health workers due to its improved access to electricity, providing a promising future and higher quality of life and work. There are currently 127 customers (including households) connected to the grid, benefitting 635 people and improving health care for at least 1,200 people every month. Overall, 40 jobs were created, including two employees that have stayed in the village and the remaining 38 had access to part-time jobs related to construction, carrying poles, batteries, etc. Furthermore, an estimated 100 tonnes of CO2 per year have been saved.
One of the main barriers for the project developer arose from administrative delays, which slowed down the flow of public money to pay for the connection fees of the public institutions. An alternative solution for public institutions could be to engage in income-generating activities able to cover part of the connection fees, such as selling vegetables and crafts. ENGIE PowerCorner has a pipeline with a target of 60 sites in five provinces, which have been endorsed for development of mini-grid activity.