Oliver Kazunga, Senior Business Reporter
LEADING telecommunications company, Econet, through its energy business, Ugesi Energy, has launched a $45 million solar power rural electrification programme under the first phase targeting 100 growth points across the country.
Econet has chosen Bulawayo as the base and launch pad for Ugesi Energy where it will run the company’s projects with wider national focus.
The first phase, which will see 100 solar mini grids being rolled out across the country, targets to transform rural enterprises and create employment downstream.
The project follows the successful launch two years ago of Distributed Power Africa, the group’s commercial solar business whose focus was on building large solar energy systems for commercial and industrial clients.
In an interview after the programme’s ground-breaking launch in Bulawayo yesterday, Econet Energy chief executive officer, Mr Norman Moyo, said:
“We have invested $45 million under the first phase of the project in Zimbabwe targeting 100 growth points across the country and we have already identified them.
“The first 10 will be in Matabeleland area and the first three we expect to have them up and running in the next six months.
“There are investments happening outside Zimbabwe, $45 million is for Zimbabwe primarily but the rest is going to happen in other markets.”
Matabeleland region, which will be the first in Zimbabwe to benefit from the rural solar energy programme, will have its first mini grids established in Nkayi, Ndolwane (Bulilima District) and Sezhube in Matabeleland South.
Ugesi Energy plans to roll out at least 10 systems in Matabeleland North and South provinces and this is in line with the guidelines the firm has received from Econet chairman Mr Strive Masiyiwa.
Some sites to build the first mini grids have already been identified and construction work is expected to begin next month.
The Ugesi mini grids will typically provide power to an area within a radius of five kilometres to the solar system and will be supported by individual prepaid meters.
It is hoped that the mini grids will generate enough power to support all electrical appliances.
In other markets, Mr Moyo said, they were working with different partners in Rwanda and something was also coming up in Botswana where they have requested for mini grids.
Last week, Mr Masiyiwa and his wife Tsitsi unveiled a $100 million facility for entrepreneurs to start rural enterprises.
“Obviously, the $100 million the chairman committed goes towards the same although it’s not necessarily to build that infrastructure.
But its investment we are putting so you could also say that the $100 million that the chairman has committed towards empowering entrepreneurs, comes on the back of this infrastructure that we are building,” said Mr Moyo.
Earlier in his address at the launch event, he said Ugesi Energy plans to build the solar mini grids with each grid providing power for businesses and homes in communal areas.
Mr Moyo said in the initial phase, small grids would provide electricity to support businesses, local administration facilities at growth points, schools and clinics.
The Ugesi Energy initiative is part of what Econet founder Mr Masiyiwa calls Re-Imagine Rural, a concept in which entrepreneurs were being challenged to start businesses in rural areas.
Mr Moyo said the rural electrification programme was part of Mr Masiyiwa’s broader vision to economically transform rural communities.
“This is very much part of that vision. The entrepreneurs need reliable power if they are to build modern businesses. Ugesi is our answer to those in need of power for start-ups such as dairies, poultry incubators, water pumps for horticulture and even small-scale manufacturing and assembly businesses,” he said.
Steward Bank chief executive officer, Dr Lance Mambondiani, whose bank manages the administration of the $100 million facility on behalf of the Masiyiwa Family Foundation, has also pledged to support the Ugesi initiative.
The choice of Bulawayo as the launch pad for the project was easy because they felt as Econet, they were too concentrated in Harare.
“We want to stimulate the economic revitalisation of other parts of the country too,” said Mr Moyo.