ABB's "Access to electricity" rural electrification program was launched in 2002 as part of the company's contribution to common efforts, in line with its social policy. It is proving successful in raising social, environmental and economic standards in remote areas.
There are now two main "Access to electricity" projects – one in the deserts of Rajasthan, India, and the original project in a remote location in southern Tanzania.
The project in India – based on a public-private partnership – has brought together ABB, the state government of Rajasthan and an NGO to provide power to desert hamlets. The program started in 2005 when one hamlet was provided with power generated by solar panels, and this has now been extended to several more hamlets with1,100 households covering more than 7,000 people. The costs of installing the panels have been shared equally among ABB, the NGO and the villagers.
The benefits of electrification in this project include:
- The productivity of weavers and tailors has risen by 50 percent and 40 percent respectively over the past two years. They can now work at night avoiding searing daytime temperatures which can rise as high as 50 degrees Celsius.
- Children can now study after dark, and the number attending school has doubled in two years
- Electricity has replaced kerosene, reducing the danger of fires and easing health problems
- The nurse at a health clinic can now treat patients at night, and dispense advice on an electrically recharged mobile phone to patients far and wide.
In another public-private partnership project in Tanzania, ABB teamed up with local authorities and the global conservation organization WWF to set up a mini-grid, fired by a diesel generator, which provides the village of Ngarambe with four hours of electricity a night. The electricity has replaced the traditional, more expensive source of fuel, kerosene.
Electrification has led to economic, social and environmental gains in recent years.
ABB supplied the generator, installed underground cables and low-voltage equipment, and trained local people to run the power supply. WWF provided guidance on issues ranging after dark each day and from reducing deforestation to health care and environmental education.
Recent advances include:
- A new electricity-driven sawmill has opened, providing employment for 30 people and leading to more sustainable logging
- A new sunflower and sesame press, operational after dark, is also raising incomes
- Children who are able to study after dark are passing school exams in increasing numbers
- Nurses at a health clinic are able to treat patients after dark
Electricity was sold at a highly subsidized rate initially, with local users deciding with the authorities what price they could afford to pay. The plan was that as the economic benefits of having power became more tangible over time, the price would be raised correspondingly to match incomes and eventually resemble the market rate. That goal has not yet been reached, mainly as a result of drought and recession.
In 2010, a film was produced highlighting the successes and challenges of the two projects. Filmed on location, the production shows how electricity can quite literally spark lasting economic, social and environmental change.