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Tanzania power woes

tanzania-power-woesBy Construction Review Reporter

Inaccessible and often unpredictable power outages are becoming a way of life to residents.

Cacophonies of ear-splitting noises as diesel and petrol generators outdo one another are synonymous with Karioakoo and Dar es Salaam Central Business District (CBD) during the daytime. Elsewhere, businesses have stalled and households are constantly in the dark owing to the power outages that have become a common phenomena in Tanzania.

The consequence is that the economy has been ravaged. In the recent years it has been sagging under the pressure caused by erratic power supply resulting from countrywide power rationing.

Estimated losses from various stakeholders including manufacturers paint a grim picture of the situation with some large manufacturing concerns, for example ALAF Ltd decrying huge losses of up to US$ 200,000 an hour as reported in the media.

Over dependence on hydropower has meant that the reliance on sporadic rainfalls has rendered the situation unbearably difficult not for just the manufacturers and domestic users but also for the small traders who operate power driven equipment.

Even if existing power output were to be fully operational, the question of power production and distribution still remains an Achilles heel.

Last year, the media reported that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) 2011/2012 growth forecast for Tanzania would drop to 6 percent from 7.2 percent. The reason cited was that frequent power outages would hurt production output while food and fuel prices could push inflation higher.

Power Situation

A glimpse at power situation in the country reveals the following flaws. Only less than 15 percent of Tanzanians have access to power, with a paltry 2 percent in the rural areas.

These disparities have seen the economies in the rural areas remain stagnant. It is notable that investment in the electricity sector has been small and capacity has only grown marginally. Demand, on the other hand, has been continuously rising, a major contributor to power outages.

The limited installed capacity of less than 800 MW against the rising demand that is expected to exceed 1200 MW  coupled with 1000 MW per capita compared to 500 MW have all contributed to the rationing. The country’s five-year development plan targets generation of more than 2,700-megawatts by 2015/16.

The contribution of Independent Power Suppliers (IPPs) who rely on fossil fuels that feed the national grid has been subject to the fluctuating dollar and petrol prices in the world market.

Experts have argued that there is abundant, but largely untapped renewable energy resources. Currently  hydro power accounts for 70 percent of electricity produced while diesel based production, solar and generators are also used. Rural Tanzania consumes close to 90 percent biomass energy.  .

Alternative power

Besides power outages caused by drop in production, severe storms, vandalism of transformers and other infrastructures have also caused outages and left the country in the dark especially the unprepared.

Builders have therefore been forced to think ahead and install generators to mitigate the outages. Emergency backup power and lighting come in quite handy when the electricity suddenly goes out.

Although solar energy holds promise, it still has a long way to go. Solar is renewable and clean but the underlying costs of installation exceed what most Tanzanians can afford.

It is appropriate for schools, dispensaries and offices ranging from capacities of 300Watt to over 1kWatt that can be used for lighting, computers, fans, refrigerators (for vaccines). Most existing systems are donor funded without plans for maintenance and replacement of batteries. Solar energy has great potential.


Generators are becoming not just a trend in Dar es Salaam because outages happen at the most inopportune times necessitating a higher level of preparedness to forestall stalling of essential operations.  There are no official statistics as to the number of generators purchased but it is evidently high.

Secondly, while generators on sale in Tanzania may meet the need of supplying power when needed, there still remains the need to purchase models that are environmentally friendly with a reputation for quality and low noise output. After sales service is also critical.

On a small scale, power generators have proved to be indispensable ready-to-use that although expensive in the long run, does fill the chasm created by power outages.

Moreover, heavy downpours have often interfered with distribution thus necessitating stand-alone generators.

The situation for large scale users such as industries, telecoms and mining is however complicated. Their generator needs can only be met by equally large and well established generator suppliers who can meet their needs.

One such company is Merrywater Ltd. Merrywater, one of the leading generator industry players in Tanzania is the authorized dealer of FG  Wilson UK. FG Wilson is the largest generator manufacturer in Europe. By collaborating with FG Wilson,  Merrywater  has enhanced the training of staff by providing both local and overseas training opportunities.

This, according to Mr Henrik S. Nielsen, the MD of Merrywater, combined with extensive investment in tools,  has put Merrywater among the top suppliers of generators in Tanzania with a sound customer base consisting of individuals, industrials, foreign as well as local governments together with the Telecom, tourist and mining industries.

The quality of after sales service and support offered to customers, adds Mr Nielsen, is of highest possible standards.

Providing a 24hour callout service, the company has an extensive  fleet of generators on service contract receiving regular visits by qualified staff to ensure good running condition of plant and equipment. It also boasts of a  hire fleet consisting of mobile generators of various sizes for short and long time rental covering emmergencies, special functions, construction sites nd other uses.

Merrywater supplies generators with a wide range of technical specifications for both single and synchronized operation ranging from 9.5 up to 20000 KVA, and holds one of the largest stocks of generators in Tanzania meeting standard specification and various international standards related to both emission control and sound pollution

Domestic generators

Generators can be defined by their purpose as either domestic or professional. They can also be defined by their use –  as backup or basic generators. For domestic use in Tanzania, petrol generators are preferred.

They are a source of electricity with relatively small power. It fits in when users carry backup, seasonal or emergency power supply. These units typically have less resources and power in comparison with diesel, but more convenient in operation due to lower weight, size and noise level at work.

Variants of using a petrol (gasoline) generator: as a backup low power supply both in stationary and portable version, are the only possible source for carrying out rescue and repair work in the field and at remote facilities to provide electricity to various kinds of mobile objects.

Generators for construction sites ought to be compact and powerfully built into sturdy steel enclosures that can be moved around the jobsite with a tow motor.

Diesel power plants are the main workhorses where for various reasons, centralized power supply is not available, or the quality of supply is poor.

There is nothing surprising in the popularity of diesel generators because they provide low cost electricity generation, and as a result – a fast recoupment of the generator set. Long lifespan and durability can also be attributed to the undoubted advantages of diesel power.


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