The Sunday News
Nozipho Rutsate, Sunday News Reporter
MOBILE telephone operator Econet has launched an ambitious rural electrification programme under the name Ugesi Energy that will see the company building ‘solar mini grids’ at 100 sites across rural Zimbabwe as part of transforming rural enterprises and create employment.
Ugesi is the second Econet energy business following the successful launch two years ago of Distributed Power Africa (DPA), the group’s commercial solar business with a focus on building large solar energy systems for commercial and industrial clients.
Speaking at a launch of the programme in Bulawayo on Wednesday, Econet Energy chief executive officer Mr Norman Moyo said Ugesi Energy would initially target growth points, schools and clinics.
“Each grid will provide power for businesses and homes in the communal areas,” Mr Moyo said, adding that 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 Strive Masiyiwa calls Re-Imagine Rural, a concept in which entrepreneurs are challenged to start businesses in rural areas.
It also follows the unveiling by Mr Masiyiwa and his wife Tsitsi of a $100 million facility last week, for entrepreneurs to start and scale their rural enterprises.
“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.
Mr Moyo said the Ugesi mini grids will typically provide power to an area within a radius of five kilometers to the solar system and will be supported by individual prepaid meters.
He said the mini grids would generate enough power to support all electrical appliances.
Mr Moyo said Matabeleland provinces would be the first to benefit from the rural solar energy programme in Zimbabwe.
“Our plan is to roll out at least 10 systems in Matabeleland North and South first, in line with the guidelines we have received from our founder (Mr Masiyiwa),” Mr Moyo said, adding that they had already identified some sites to build the first mini grids and we would be starting construction in the coming month.
Some of the identified sites are in Ndolwane in Matabeleland South Sezhube along Bulawayo-Beitbridge road and Nkayi in Matabeleland North
Ugesi Energy, he said, would be based in Bulawayo from where it will run the company’s projects nationwide.
He said the choice of Bulawayo was easy because “as Econet we feel we are too concentrated in Harare. We want to stimulate the economic revitalisation of other parts of the country too.”
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, echoed Mr Moyo’s sentiments and pledged to support the Ugesi initiative.
“We will provide project financing priority to those who are setting up in the communal areas where Ugesi will be supplying energy,” Dr Mambondiani said.