Solar panels light rural districts of Lesotho

solar-powered hut in Lesotho
Solar PV systems installed on huts provide electricity to the community. Photo: UNDP in Lesotho

For years, electricity seemed like an impossible dream in most rural areas in Lesotho. “Life was difficult”, says Me Atang Seoa, owner of a small business in Sehong-Hong village, in the mountainous part of the country. “Customers would come after dark and the light of the candles was not enough.”

“Our village was in the darkness”, adds Mathabang Hlekiso, a mother of 5. “Sometimes we couldn’t afford to buy paraffin for the lamps. We couldn’t charge our phones, we couldn’t send urgent messages. It was difficult for the children to study”.

Highlights

  • 65 off-the-grid villages in the three pilot districts benefited from the installation of solar panels to access electricity
  • Local artisans in these rural areas were trained to install, maintain and repair the solar PV systems to ensure continuity
  • About 5000 households, or around 30 000 people, benefited directly and indirectly from the project

Only 28% of the 2 million-strong population of Lesotho has access to electricity, and this goes down to 5% in rural areas which are often only accessible by foot or horseback. At the same time the country has ample resources in terms of renewable energy such as wind, solar and water.

To provide affordable electricity to remote villages having no access to the main electricity grid, UNDP partnered with the Government through the Renewable Energy-Based Rural Electrification Project, funded by the Global Environment Facility.

In 3 pilot districts - Thaba-Tseka, Mokhotlong and Qacha’s Nek - grants were provided to several income generating activities and one business centre to demonstrate the productive use of solar energy.

For example, a solar irrigation scheme was introduced at Matsoaing village, a farming community using a diesel engine driven water pump for irrigation.  It was difficult for the community to order diesel from town and the watering system would stop working for days until the fuel arrived. Now the diesel generator has been discarded, eliminating the need for costly fossil fuel.

To ensure sustainable use of the photovoltaic (PV) systems, 90 community artisans in the 3 pilot districts were trained on basic repairs and maintenance of solar PV systems.  This created new jobs and more youth are expected to be trained as demand for solar PV systems increases.

Local technical training institutions were encouraged to strengthen their solar PV curriculum for future technicians and grants in the form of solar equipment were awarded to these institutions as a starting point.

The project also improved the capacity of the private sector by providing technical skills and business management training to more than 50% of solar dealers in the country.  Due to the high initial cost of solar energy systems and lack of suitable financing mechanisms, UNDP and the government of Lesotho introduced a credit guarantee scheme.  This scheme was set up to assist solar PV installers engaged by the project to access loans from the banks for installation of solar home systems in rural areas.

In order to ensure quality of work and improve workmanship on solar PV systems, the project packaged a solar PV code of practice for Lesotho.  It was translated from English into Sesotho and is now publicly available.

“This is a great success for the project, not only in the 3 pilot districts,” says Ms Agi Veres, UNDP’s Deputy Resident Representative in Lesotho, “but also as part of our initiative to support the private sector and the communities originally not involved in the process”.

As a result of the capacity building through this project, about 5000 households - around 30 000 people - gained access to affordable and renewable electricity throughout the country.

In Sehong-Hong, shop owners can now keep their shops open into the night and improve their business: “We can stay open until we are tired, and our customers see everything so much better with solar lamps,” says Me Atang.

UNDP Around the world