Eswatini Electricity Company and the Eswatini Energy Regulatory Authority reveal that the average electricity household unit price is E1.81 cents, yet under the piloted minigrids program the average unit price per household is E4.85 cents. However, minigrids are still cheaper than solar home systems and have business use opportunities.

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By Ntokozo Nkambule

The recently launched Africa Minigrids Program (AMP) project has unearthed some huge opportunities for the country, but also comes with drawbacks as minigrids are more expensive for the average household.

The Eswatini Energy Regulatory Authority (ESERA) Chief Executive Officer Sikhumbuzo Tsabedze in his address during the launch of the AMP in the country noted that the increased price is a challenge because the population targeted for minigrids use are those living under the poverty line.

The use of minigrids has been piloted in the country by the Eswatini Electricity Company (EEC). The company through its Managing Director (MD), Ernest Mkhonta outlined the challenges and opportunities they have noted with minigrids.

Financially, he observed that the usage of minigrids is more practical than the solar home system as it is cheaper. “We have explored a number of ways to provide universal electricity access in the country, such as solar home systems. Our investigations revealed that it was going to be expensive to go that route. In terms of figures, the minigrid system we piloted at Mvundla under the Ntondozi constituency cost E3.7 million, yet solar homes systems could have cost as much as E8 million. The minigrid system is advantageous because it is a centralized system that supports around twenty-two (22) communities and has a strong opportunity for business as well” the EEC MD noted.

The MD noted, however, that as much as minigrids are cheaper than solar home systems, they are still expensive compared to the current household average unit price. He said as a result it was imperative that government and development partners come on board to assist as it is not practical for them as EEC, to solely run the project. Moreover, Mkhonta noted that there must be planning that takes place where financial support is sought to ensure the success of minigrids in the country.

“We need to also make sure that we use a sustainable model for the minigrids, as the model we used on the pilot project is not sustainable. For the capital support that we need to get this project running efficiently; we need grants, subsidies, and funding from entities that have the capability to provide such assistance. We also need to design it in such a way that we value stake it with productive use of electricity. That will help us to establish other businesses in that particular area” he posited.

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