Rural Electrification in Tanzania

Wilbert Simbila completed his Master of Geo-Spatial Information Sciences, 2013.

This story forms part of the 2017 Outcomes Study. Alumni were selected to share their Most Significant Change as a result of the Australia Awards program.

Before going to Australia, I was as a Field Data Officer with Africa Soil Information Services (AfSIS). During my time with them, the application of geo-spatial analytical techniques in development projects’ decision-making processes inspired me. After being awarded the Australia Award – Africa scholarship in 2012, I resigned from my job to begin a Master of Geo-Spatial Information Sciences at The University of Queensland where I specialised in geo-spatial information sciences (GIS) and remote sensing (RS).

My arrival in Australia marked the beginning of my career in geo-spatial sciences. During my studies, I made new friends from various social, cultural and educational backgrounds. The program structure was designed to provide essential skills which I needed for career development. The course involved units with many practical activities and motivated at being part of the program, which I completed in July 2013.

On my return to Tanzania, I got a position as GIS/Remote Sensing Analyst by the Rural Energy Agency (REA) – an autonomous body under the Ministry of Energy and Minerals of The United Republic of Tanzania. My primary task was to develop a six-year rural electrification project plan to electrify 7,873 villages by 2021. In 2013, only 7% of Tanzanian rural communities were electrified or had access to National Grid. Due to the high cost of investment in electrical infrastructure, policy makers and planners tasked me to create a six-year rural electrification tool. This tool would inform the development of cost-effective strategies for implementation of electrification and in the planning of process costs in-line with the availability of funds and the government target of electrifying the 7,873 villages by 2021. As an expert in GIS/RS, I came up with a proposal to use geo-spatial techniques which offers a promising way of reducing the implementation costs of rural electrification projects. To enhance staff capacity in the use and application of this method, I had to train six electrical engineers and one surveyor in the use and implementation of the GIS application software, Network Planner and Model Runner, to establish the six-year plan.

Under my leadership, the team established existing baseline data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Tanzania Electricity Supply Company (TANESCO), Geological Society of Tanzania (GST) and other stakeholders to identify gaps. We encountered challenges in obtaining relevant real-time data that was acceptable to the GIS application software environment.  We identified gaps and collected missing data from the field and other secondary sources over a period of six months. We managed to run the model and come up with the six-year rural electrification plan and divided it into three phases. We completed phase one (2015/2016) of rural electrification in October 2016 which contributed to the increase of rural electrification access level from 7% in 2013 to 39.9% in 2016. Phase two of the project started in March 2017 aiming to electrify 3,559 villages. I used the six-year rural electrification plan datasets to develop the Tanzania Mini-Grid Portal (www.minigrids.go.tz) which provides comprehensive information for investors interested in developing renewable mini-grids in Tanzania for rural electrification projects.

This change is significant to me because it assists decision makers and electricity planners to estimate the investment needed for rural electrification, factoring in the technological options, government policies, fuel costs and other variables. Additionally, planners can use this model to identify trends in geographic areas, for example, unelectrified communities that may be grid compatible versus those that are off-grid or mini-grid compatible, within the specified timeframe to increase Tanzania’s national electricity access rate which is vital for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

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