From Sea to Sun: New Capacity for Energy Independence in Zanzibar

Power Africa
4 min readApr 3


USAID Tanzania and Power Africa are supporting Zanzibar utility, ZECO, to meet the energy needs of institutions and schools like the Dr. John Pombe Magufuli Secondary School, Zanzibar. Photo Credit: Charles Donald Mnyethi

The blue ocean waters surrounding the Zanzibar archipelago hold stunning sea life that draws nearly half a million tourists each year. Until recently, they also held the only source of energy for Zanzibaris: Submarine power cables connecting the islands to Tanzania’s mainland national grid.

However, electricity demand has long surpassed the cables’ capacity. Months-long blackouts in 2008 and 2010 crippled Zanzibar’s economy, which relies on tourism and requires a continuous power supply.

Without its own robust energy infrastructure, only half of Zanzibar’s 1.6 million people have access to electricity.

Over the past decade, Zanzibar started to prioritize its energy security. The Zanzibar Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty III (2016–2020) prioritizes infrastructure to enable energy self-reliance and economic growth. To achieve its goal of universal energy access by 2032, Zanzibar will use locally available energy resources and minimize dependence on off-island supply.

Power Africa promotes African-led reform by engaging local governments to fill critical skills gaps that help drive policy and infrastructure reform.

In Zanzibar, USAID Tanzania and Power Africa strengthened a government-led solar energy initiative with training that will serve immediate energy development and support long-term goals.

Looking at the post-natal lamp for newborn babies and the vaccine storage freezer at Fuoni PHCU+ health center, Zanzibar. Photo Credit: Charles Donald Mnyethi

Harnessing Tropical Sun for Energy Security

Solar energy is a climate-smart and sustainable resource for Zanzibar and could significantly reduce reliance on the power supply from the mainland, as well as the costs of importing it.

In 2013, the government of Zanzibar commissioned a wind and solar resource assessment and, with support from USAID Tanzania and Power Africa partner the World Bank, launched a solar generation initiative with the Zanzibar Electricity Corporation (ZECO).

The World Bank, launched the Zanzibar Energy Sector Transformation and Access (ZESTA) project in 2021 which is developing 18 megawatts of solar power infrastructure at the southeastern tip of Zanzibar’s largest island, Unguja.

To make energy more reliable for households and businesses during peak-usage evening hours when sunlight is waning, the ZESTA project includes large-scale battery storage, among the first of its kind in Tanzania.

The five-year project will expand access to consistent and efficient electricity services and scale up renewable energy generation in Zanzibar.

Students taking their end-term exams at Ali Hassan Mwinyi Secondary School, Bububu, Zanzibar
Students taking their end-term exams at Ali Hassan Mwinyi Secondary School, Bububu, Zanzibar. Photo Credit: Charles Donald Mnyethi

Self-Reliant Energy Decision-Making

With the ZESTA project under way, Zanzibar initiated an important transition to energy security. However, ZECO’s in-house knowledge of solar and battery energy storage systems was “basic,” according to ZECO Electrical Engineer Zabrina Makame.

“We needed knowledge of new technologies to improve [our] plans and management of grid extension initiatives,” said Salma Said Abdallah, President of the Zanzibar Ministry of Finance and Planning.

Without knowledge of maintenance, operations, and procurement, Zanzibar would have to rely on external sources for updates.

USAID Tanzania and Power Africa, in collaboration with the World Bank, developed a comprehensive training that responded to the capacity-building priorities shared by Zanzibar energy institutions and would help Zanzibar see the ZESTA project to fruition. Sessions included topics such as competitive procurement of power providers, project finance, and battery energy storage technologies and services. USAID Tanzania and Power Africa also delivered training for ZECO and the Zanzibar Utilities Regulatory Authority (ZURA) on owning and operating a solar generation facility.

With feedback from the government of Zanzibar on emerging skill gaps, USAID and Power Africa revised the training curriculum to include the fundamentals of engineering, procurement, and construction contracts. Additional training for MOE and ZECO engineers in 2022 also included topics such as power system operations, battery energy storage, and remote control of multiple power systems from a single location.

This training contributed “to the [capacity] development of the government of Zanzibar and increased capacities of ZECO engineers,” said Zabrina Makame.

This knowledge builds institutional capacity to oversee large-scale and complex energy infrastructure works.

Salma Said Abdallah added that this support from USAID Tanzania and Power Africa will “help to reduce losses and expand electricity access to previously unserved communities and vulnerable households.”



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