A massive solar-based rural electrification of at least 88 villages is expected to be rolled out countrywide mid this year. Finance Minister Baledzi Gaolathe announced the P34 million National Rural Photovoltaic Electrification Programme during the 2005-2
The five-year programme is intended to help households to acquire solar power systems on affordable terms. It is jointly sponsored by the government (P19 million) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (P15 million). Government has previously dabbled in solar-based projects though with little success. The most ambitious of these is the forerunner project to the current one. It was administered through the Rural Industries Promotions Company (RIPCO) and it ran from 1997-2001. It has been reviewed and reintroduced in the present format mentioned by Gaolathe in the budget. Kesetsenao Molosiwa, the principal energy officer in the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources attributed the apparent failure of the earlier project to poor repayment rate since it operated as a revolving fund. It appears it is against this background of not-so-successful implementation that the Department of Energy in earnest joined forces with major developmental players like the UNDP and the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC) to map out the way forward in November 2001. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) was roped in to develop the Botswana Photovoltaic Master Plan, which included pilot projects at Motlhabaneng (Bobirwa Sub-District) Lerolwane (Southern District) and Khudumatse (Central District). With the necessary groundwork covered, the BPC has been tasked with implementing the programme on behalf of government. Molosiwa said the programme will target villages that are unlikely to be serviced by the BPC national grid network at least in the next 10 years. The other major criterion for the potential beneficiaries is population and location or buffer zone. "For the village to be selected for PV, it must be a minimum distance of 15 km from existing and future grid network. It must also have a population of between 250 and 1200 households," Molosiwa said. He added that the considerations were based on the figures of the last census. He was quick to point out the criterion was not rigid as other considerations were taken aboard. "Villages that fall under this criterion are not so many, we have been flexible to cover even villages in the range of 64 to 100 people in some instances." Unlike the RIIC-operated programme, the current one offers a highly subsidised package. The government will fund 80 percent of the total cost of the equipment installed. The client then pays only 20 percent of the costs. Molosiwa disclosed that the package includes the PV Panels and Battery Bank, Solar Water Heating System (geysers) and LP Gas with a cooker. "The PV can do almost everything that a client wants. It is just a matter of affordability. The more equipment you install, the more the output. Even the autonomy period (when there is no sunshine) is also dependent on the capacity of the battery bank." Alban Motsepe, the BPC Manager - Rural Division who is also in charge of the PV programme is convinced that the hefty government subsidy will play the critical promotional role in the utilisation of solar-based energy that aims to service all demographic categories. He said for the actual implementation, the BPC intends to outsource expertise from the private sector. "One of the fundamentals of this programme is to involve the private sector as much as possible. This is good for sustainability. We intend to engage many small competent local companies that have been involved with solar-based energy to ensure longevity of the programme." Motsepe is optimistic about the sustainability of the programme. "It is a programme, not a project - thus it has only the beginning not the end. And the ultimate aim is to have everybody having access to modern energy sources."