National electrification programmes are given priority in many developing countries and the level of electrification is generally seen as one of the key indicators of development. Utilities find rural electrification programmes a challenge because the returns on the investment made in grid extension are minimal given the usually low levels of power consumption in rural areas
An approach, adopted in Zimbabwe that promises to address this problem is to target income-generating activities, mainly the small and medium scale enterprises (SMMEs) in the areas where the electricity grid is extended. This will have the benefits of potentially increasing the return on the utility’s investment by also stimulating small-scale commercial and industrial activities in the areas reached by the grid. It is however important to understand the SMMEs and their needs in order to tailor any support appropriately
This paper discusses the findings of recent case studies among small enterprise beneficiaries of rural electrification in the arid southwest of Zimbabwe and highlights key lessons learnt
The authors conclude that overall 60% of respondents felt that despite the shortcomings cited, the expanded rural electrification programme was good, needing improvements to its slow speed and selective reach. Given the prevailing difficult economic environment in Zimbabwe, it is to be expected that financial difficulties would rank high among problems faced by enterprises.