Who, What & Where

  • Practical Action

  • Rural Sustainable Energy Development (RUSED)

  • Mutare/Himalaya/Southern Africa/Zimbabwe

  • Completed in 2016

The Organisation

Practical Action is a charity that uses technology to challenge poverty, enabling poor communities to develop skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions; helping them transform their lives and protect the world around them. Practical Action has worked in the energy access space for over 40 years and has been involved in over 500 mini-grid projects over this period.

The Challenge

Electricity access in agricultural communities in Zimbabwe is poor. Due to challenging global and national economic situations, the only national utility company, ZESA, has been unable to scale-up the rural electrification programme which has, to date, provided less than 25% of rural communities with electricity. The Himalayan area in particular is mountainous, remote, and far from the national grid. To the community here, electricity access was a fantasy.

Opportunities for Renewables

In Himalaya, there was huge potential to link renewable energy and productive agricultural and commercial uses. From the outset, Practical Action therefore linked the microhydro scheme with agricultural livelihoods; specifically including an irrigation component at the community’s request.

Renewable Solution

Acknowledging that energy is a prerequisite for rural communities’ development and the achievement of national and international development goals, the project aimed to increase access to modern, affordable and sustainable renewable energy services for rural people in Ruti and Himalaya, by promoting the use of micro-hydro and solar energy.

The project mobilised stakeholders to use local materials, skills, knowledge and labour; complimented by specialised skills on community based approaches, and technical expertise on renewable energy technology by the implementers. Communities were trained to maintain and operate various components of the micro-hydro and solar systems; as well as an energy kiosk charging station, equipment installed in the schools and clinics, and associated financial management.

Project Financing and Costs

The 2,000,000 EUR project was funded by the European Union ACP Energy Facility and Oxfam. It is expected that the uptake of electricity in the project areas will ensure reliable financial flows, and sustainability well beyond project conclusion.

Project Outcome

In Himalaya, the project established an 80 kW micro hydro scheme now powering two irrigation schemes totalling 25 hectares and particularly focussing on energy for smallholder farmers and community services. In addition to supplying 300 households with electricity, the micro-hydro system has helped to establish two clinics, two schools, 20 local entrepreneurs, and two agri-business centres including an energy kiosk and saw mill facilities. The community has improved their food security, incomes, and health – while also protecting the environment on which they heavily rely. At least 19,200 men, women and children will benefit from this project.

Himalaya is constrained by its geographical position, including poor road connections to potential markets and services. However, as local resident Wilson Chemwanyisa indicated, the community now feels empowered to demand road improvements, and is seeking the development of a health centre now that electricity access is available.

Key lessons include:

  • how energy kiosk models can be used to reach last mile energy customers;
  • market linkages are key project sustainability;
  • renewable energy provision for poor rural communities is not financially viable without end-user energy literacy, capacity building and productive use training programmes.