Tanzania has one of the lowest rates of electrification in the world. Even in major cities like Mwanza where there is grid supply, there is a large backlog of applications for grid connection, and it may take many years to get connected.
Awareness of the benefits of solar energy means that people are interested in solar PV. However the upfront cost is a major obstacle to many of the rural poor, leading people to try cheaper products that often turn out to be fakes. Zara Solar Ltd, the leading solar business in Northern Tanzania, is providing people with high quality yet affordable solar PV systems. By 2007, Zara Solar and its sister company Mona-Mwanza Electrical & Electronics, had sold over 3,600 systems, directly benefiting over 18,000 people. In order to reach more remote areas, Zara Solar uses a network of trained local technicians that can service their own local customer base as well as providing customers with sufficient training to maintain the system properly once it is installed.
The use of PV provides significant social benefits for health, welfare and education. In health centres, improved lighting and mobile phone charging are very useful: one centre found that more women came to give birth after kerosene lamps were replaced by PV lighting in the delivery room. Where solar PV is used in schools the students can benefit from better lighting in the evening and the use of some electrical equipment.
The main limitation on future growth is the availability of consumer finance. Zara Solar is exploring various micro-finance options to give the rural poor the chance to pay back the cost of the system over time.