Excitement was at its peak when the Minister of Energy, Honorable Alhaji Kanja Sesay switched on the power for the community people in Foredugu, Port Loko District, Sierra Leone on 27, February 2021.
Located between Lunsar-Makeni Highway, Foredugu is home to more than 400 people. The community was without power for over 60 years because the National grid could not reach the community. Change came in the form of a Rural Renewable Energy Project (RREP) thanks to the support of the United Kingdom’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). RREP is a five years project implemented by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) on behalf of the Ministry of Energy (MOE) in partnership with three private operators that are operating and maintaining the mini-grids systems.
The project provides clean solar energy in rural communities like Foredugu with no access to electricity, and promotes sustainable economic growth. Through a Public Private Partnership agreement with the Ministry of Energy, one of the mini-grid operators, the West African mini grid utility operator, Energicity’s Sierra Leonean subsidiary, Power Leone, connected the community with light as part of the co-investment with FCDO. Power Leone, a private operator in Sierra Leone, constructed a mini grid with 40 Kw of solar to serve the community.The electricity will serve over 300 customers who have registered and are connected to use the electricity.
Speaking at the commissioning of the electricity, Hon. Alhaji Kanja Sesay, Minister of Energy, described electrification as a human right, saying “light is a right and every Sierra Leonean should have access to electricity”. He added that the provision of electricity at Foredugu and other sites is strategic, as light is bringing economic development and will improve the livelihood of people living in rural areas.
The provision of electricity improves the education sector, as school learners are able to complete night classes. Furthermore, access to electricity also improves health as health workers are able to do safe delivery at night and use the electricity to store vaccines needed in the clinic. Additionally, entrepreneurship growth will come to the communities, as businesses will be able to develop and expand, which will foster economic development for all and improve quality of life in a sustainable way.
In the first phase of the project, 54 mini grids were installed at the Community Health Centres (CHCs) at free cost, to support all medical appliances for treatment and health service delivery. These 54 mini grids are transformed into smaller grids to connect some public institutions and households in the villages. Communities are paying for the use of the electricity at a cost recovery tariff for long-term sustainability and maintenance by the operators.
During the event, Ing. Nick Gardner, UNOPS Country Manager, expressed how delighted he was to see Foredugu as the first of 45 mini grid communities in phase two of RREP commissioned. He noted that the project is impactful and he looks forward to seeing the positive socio economic impact that the electricity will have in Foredugu and other sites that will have electricity subsequently. He says, “these communities are spread across 13 districts within the country, and are bigger communities with bigger generation assets (power plants)”.
So far, Power Leone has commissioned and is operating in 21 mini grid communities ranging from 16 kW to 36kw, totaling 630kw in capacity and serving 30,000 people as part of the first phase of the project. The provision of electricity in Phase 1 and Phase 2 by Power Leone will serve approximately 70,000 to 100,000 Sierra Leoneans with reliable, sustainable solar powered electricity.
“We are excited to build the first solar mini grids in Sierra Leone, all of which were built in-country,” said Joe Philip, VP of Engineering & Operations and co-founder of Energicity Corp. He added that Power Leone was able to meet their threefold commitment of providing mini grid installations with reliable solar power electricity that is cost effective for all Sierra Leoneans.
The RREP is part of the Government of Sierra Leone’s National Development Plan to provide electricity access to rural communities through mini grids. By May 2022, almost 350,000 direct beneficiaries in rural communities will benefit from the project.