Econet has launched a ground-breaking, rural electrification programme worth millions of dollars through its Ugesi Energy project, that is set to help transform 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 event in the country’s second city of Bulawayo on February 13, Econet Energy CEO Norman Moyo said Ugesi Energy plans to build ‘solar mini grids’ at 100 sites across rural Zimbabwe.
“Each grid will provide power for businesses and homes in the communal areas,” 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 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 Masiyiwa and his wife Tsitsi of a $100 million facility last week, for entrepreneurs to start and scale their rural enterprises.
Moyo confirmed that the rural electrification programme was part of Masiyiwa’s broader vision to economically transform rural communities.
“This is very much part of that vision,” he said. “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.”
Steward Bank CEO Lance Mambondiani, whose bank manages the administration of the $100 million facility on behalf of the Masiyiwa family Foundation, echoed 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,” he said.
Moyo said the Ugesi mini grids will typically provide power to an area within a radius of 5km 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.
The Econet Energy executive 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 (Masiyiwa),” Moyo said, adding that they had already identified some sites to build the first mini grids and would be starting construction in the coming month.
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”.
The senior Econet executive announced that the ‘City of Kings’ (Bulawayo) would be the company’s base for renewable energy, adding that the Econet group had a long term interest in the region.