Zanzibar's Power Sector Reforms Gather Pace

Currently reliant on imports from mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar is moving to establish its own sources of electricity supply.

By Liz Bains on
12th July 2023

The semi-autonomous government of Zanzibar is pressing ahead this year with a major programme to overhaul its electricity sector and ensure its future energy security.

In the first six months of 2023, it has awarded its first utility-scale solar project, launched a tender to find a consultant to design a competitive renewable energy procurement programme and appointed companies to oversee parts of its grid modernisation plan. Meanwhile, a project to build a combined solar and waste-to-energy park has entered the detailed engineering design phase.

The two largest islands in the archipelago of Zanzibar, Unguja and Pemba currently rely on power imported by state-owned utility Zanzibar Electricity Corporation (ZECO) through underwater cables from mainland Tanzania.

Unguja receives its electricity through a 39km, 132kV submarine cable with a maximum capacity of 100MW. At peak times, demand reaches 95% of the cable’s capacity. Pemba receives its power through a 75km, 33kV submarine cable, with a maximum capacity of 20MW. 

Planned developments such as the Fumba satellite city, the Pemba Airport modernisation, an industrial park and new tourism projects means Zanzibar needs to establish its own sources of electricity or face future supply rationing and load shedding during peak times. It has been estimated that electricity demand on Unguja could exceed the available 100MW capacity within the next three years. 

In addition to capacity constraints, the distribution system in Zanzibar suffers from high technical losses, which hinders the reliable and efficient supply of electricity. 

The Zanzibar Energy Sector Transformation and Access (ZESTA) project, launched in 2021, has been designed to address these challenges and is being supported with US$142 million in funding from the World Bank. It aims to facilitate the scale-up of renewable energy generation in Zanzibar and address the inadequacies in the distribution system, by modernising the grid and improving last-mile access.

Currently, just 57% of Zanzibar’s 1.6 million population has access to electricity. The government has set a target of universal access by 2032.

ZESTA has three main components: the development of renewable energy and storage infrastructure; grid modernisation and access scale-up; and institutional strengthening of the electricity sector.

The renewables component entails the development of a 10-15MW photovoltaic (PV) solar plant with a stand-alone Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) to act as a pilot for utility-scale renewable energy development in Zanzibar, together with the establishment of an independent power producer (IPP) programme. 

The grid modernisation and access scale-up component centres on the development of Zanzibar’s first high-voltage backbone transmission infrastructure to evacuate power from the solar plants and improve electricity supply and reliability on Unguja. This will entail the construction of a 60km-long, 132kV north-south overhead transmission line, with associated substations at Makunduchi, Welezo, and Matemwe.

Other elements comprise the extension and densification of the medium and low voltage distribution networks across Unguja and Pemba, the refurbishment of the 11kV network in Stone Town, including new substations and underground cables, and the installation of last mile connections for 70,000 households around Zanzibar. A SCADA system will also be installed to ensure grid efficiency.

In April, WAPCOS of India was appointed as the consultant for the backbone transmission line, while Germany’s Gopa International Energy Consultants was contracted for the design, procurement support and supervision of the SCADA system installation.

Consultants were invited in November to submit expressions of interest (EOIs) for the distribution network refurbishment and strengthening and access scale-up supervision contract. And in May, EOIs were sought from consultants to design a renewable energy and power storage IPP tender programme and subsequently provide transaction advisory services. No details of contract awards for these have been published as yet.

Even while the ZESTA project continues to move forward at pace, Zanzibar is already progressing with two IPPs.

In May, local media reported that ZECO had signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) to support the development of 180MW of solar energy on the islands. The deal, worth Sh330 billion (US$135 million), was signed with the local Taifa Group and Generation Capital Limited (GCL) of Mauritania. Zanzibar Investment Promotion Authority (Zipa) has reportedly granted GCL strategic investor status. 

The solar capacity will be built in phases and in different locations, beginning with the expedited construction of a 30MW photovoltaic solar plant at Bambi in the central district, due to be completed in 2024. Subsequent phases will include BESS infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the US’ Astra Energy is planning to develop a solar and waste-to-energy project on Unguja island. The San Diego-based company announced in June that Arup had completed feasibility studies for the Zanzibar Clean and Renewable Energy Park and a 207-acre plot of land near the Kibele landfill had been secured under a 33-year renewable lease.

The project will have a generation capacity of 50MW and process 300 tonnes a day of municipal solid waste. The solar PV plant will contribute 42.5MW and the waste-to-energy plant 7.5MW. BESS infrastructure will be installed along with the solar PV plant. 

The land package consists of 199 acres in Kibele district for the solar farm and an additional 8 acres within the confines of the Kibele landfill for the waste-to-energy facility.

The plan is for Astra Energy to own and operate the project as an IPP, selling the power to ZECO via a long-term offtake agreement. A memorandum of understanding for the project was signed in June 2022.

Astra Energy said in a statement that after being presented with the feasibility study, the president of Zanzibar Dr Hussein Mwinyi instructed government officials to start immediate negotiations for the PPA.

Astra Energy says it will now commence detailed engineering design and environmental impact studies. 
Construction of the facility is expected to start in 2024, with commercial operation in 2025.

These are exciting times for the energy sector in Zanzibar.

Photo: Aerial view of Stone Town (© Margarita Polyakova | Dreamstime)

Add a comment

ConstructAfrica welcomes lively debate, but will not publish comments that are threatening, libellous or abusive.

Plain text

  • You can align images (data-align="center"), but also videos, blockquotes, and so on.
  • You can caption images (data-caption="Text"), but also videos, blockquotes, and so on.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol type start> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id> <img src alt data-entity-type data-entity-uuid data-align data-caption>