Even though it looks like the main national grid might soon reach some of the villages we’ve been working with, both in Tanzania and Uganda, it is surprising how many of them are still keen for us to continue installing solar power despite the fact that this will be significantly more expensive for them.
Having spent time in the countries, we can understand why. The grid power is so unreliable that long blackouts are relatively common. Our partners in Kasese, Uganda told us that 6 hour blackouts happen almost every weekend as the grid needs repairs/upgrades, or if storms/rains damage the line. Our Tanzanian partners are regularly switching their borehole pumps between grid and solar as the grid power cuts out. The last time I remember having blackouts in the UK was as a child, and it makes me realise how fortunate we really are and how sophisticated our system is to be able to cope with changing demand.
A few specific power-cut memories from my personal trips include:
- Sitting through 6 mini-blackouts while trying to have an update call with our partners from a hotel room in Uganda (November 2020)
- Socially distancing on either end of the Eco-Life (one of our Ugandan project partners) headquarters in Matugga, Uganda, with the SVRG team on one end and Eco-Life on the other. We all were wearing masks (covid-times) and only inside because it had started thundering down with rain outside. As we attempted to shout across the room at each other over the sound of the rain and the muffling effect of face masks, the power kept cutting out, leaving us in the dark. I felt the whole situation seemed rather ridiculous (though necessary) as we shouted across at each other from either ends of a dark room. (December 2020)
- We decided to try a different hotel on our second trip to Uganda. One morning, we woke up to find that the power was out and it must have started overnight as our devices didn’t fully charge. Without power, we couldn’t set up any of the smart WiFi connected temperature sensors at the Eco-Life cold store as planned. The power came on briefly for 30 minutes during the day but soon cut off again. Unfortunately, at this time Eco-Life did not have a solar home system, which also meant we couldn’t charge any of our laptops, or our phones which were providing the internet hotspots. Although they placed an order for a solar home system while we were there, it took 2 days to get the items delivered and installed. The power cut continued for the rest of the day, AND the following day, right up until we had to leave at 5pm. That was 17 hours without power (and maybe longer as I don’t know when the power cut off overnight, or when it finally restarted after we left!). By the end of the second day we were extremely limited in what we could do as our devices were all low on power and we couldn’t access any of our planning documents. We decided never to return to that particular hotel as it evidently wasn’t equipped for the power cuts that are so frequent in Uganda. Our standard hotel, although extremely basic with very temperamental hot water, at least has a back-up generator for when the grid fails. (Feburary 2021)
- Going to bed early and realising that we were in a power cut and I couldn’t remember if I’d left my light switch on or off, so I’d likely be woken by the bright light if the power did cut back in again! (October 2021)
- Doing some exercise in a hotel room in Kasese, Uganda and then calling my family while the power (and of course the lights) cut on and off about 15 times over the course of about 2 hours. (November 2021)