Research finds solar mini-grids and improved community support could provide better energy for rural Tanzania

Hannah Mottram has received a grant from the Fuel Poverty Research Network to study the effects and experiences of communities using solar mini-grids in Tanzania.

A tailor from rural tanzania sits in front of an old-style sewing machine which has been retrofitted with a new motor. He is smiling and wearing a traditional hat. A smiling local woman sits on a nearby wall over his shoulder.

Hannah Mottram, a PhD student whose work sits between the Department of Geography and the Faculty of Engineering, has received a grant from the Fuel Poverty Research Network to study the effects and experiences of communities using solar mini-grids in rural villages in Tanzania. Her work will gather data about the impact of using solar mini-grids on people living in Tanzanian villages from social, technical and economic perspectives, and aims to share those findings to improve the security, reliability and cost of energy for people in rural areas. 

One billion people in the world still live with little or no access to electricity. One of the main reasons for this is a lack of a cheap, reliable connection to a national grid. Faced with no ability to receive the heat, lighting and appliances electricity affords us, lots of people turn to other methods of producing heat and light, like kerosene. However, those alternatives are often polluting and harmful, and so finding workable, cost-effective and sustainable energy solutions for rural communities is vital to protect people’s lives and the environment they live in. 

One solution to this is to supply communities with a solar mini-grid, which uses solar energy to produce its own electricity and distribute it amongst a small community. The community also manages and monitors the mini-grid, giving users a better relationship with their energy, and more control over its distribution. In short, solar mini-grids can offer better reliability, more ownership, more efficiency and clean, renewable energy. 

a large set of solar panel sits on dry arid grassland in tanzania. The are quite high above the ground.

The grant from the Fuel Poverty Research Network will enable Hannah to produce a range of outcomes, including a report on the community experiences of energy tariffs. Currently, the energy tariffs set for people in rural communities negatively impact the poorest people - time of use tariffs mean that when agricultural workers use electricity at night, they are only ever paying the highest prices, and never receive the benefits of a cheaper daytime tariff. 

Hannah hopes that by working with Theresia Mroso, a Research Associate in Tanzania, conducting interviews with mini-grid practitioners and collecting data, they can report back to local and national government figures with a case for better support for rural communities through the use of solar mini-grids, and support those communities to support themselves using locally-targeted resources and training. 

With the development of solar mini-grids and the community support required to successfully embed them, Hannah hopes that access to reliable, cost-effective clean energy can be offered to rural communities in Tanzania and beyond. 

Hannah’s PhD research has also been supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Global Challenges Research Fund. 

A document entitled 'How to design successful minigrids that meet the needs of rural communities' has been developed in English and Swahili.  

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