Over 55,000 people living in among the least electrified areas of the world are expected be connected to electricity for the first time through this large-scale mini-grids project in Sierra Leone and Uganda.

Plans to build a portfolio of 49 solar PV mini-grids in rural Sierra Leone and Uganda are progressing well following a USD4.2m loan from REPP and co-funder, FMO.

Once built, the mini-grids will provide clean, reliable and cost-competitive electricity to 55,000 people across the two countries, which have among the lowest electrification rates in the world. Currently, around 23% of Sierra Leone’s population is connected to electricity, which is considered a significant impediment to the nation’s growth and development, with the majority of households in rural areas dependent on kerosene, candles, fuel wood and charcoal. The situation is similar in Uganda, which has a rate of electrification of around 41%, although this is far lower in rural areas.

Under the plans, developer Winch Energy Limited is building and operating 24 mini-grids in Sierra Leone and a further 25 in Uganda, with a combined capacity of 2.2 MW.

Given both countries’ low electrification rates, mini-grids have a significant role in providing electricity access to clean energy, thus supporting the achievement of SDG7 and national electrification targets. Furthermore, the project will mitigate GHG emissions and generate other co-benefits such as:

– First-time access to energy creates new opportunities for social and economic development through extended working hours, and reduced wastage of time and physical exertion and provided improved information access.

– Renewable energy increases productive use of energy opportunities and works as a driver for long-term economic growth in the project community, increasing the resilience of the community to climate change.

– Replacing kerosene, candles and charcoal will improve indoor air quality.

– Employment opportunities are created during development and operation across numerous skills.

Winch Energy has previously invested significantly in development activities, including pilot projects to prove the viability of its projects and technology. REPP’s loan will enable the company to scale up its operations, which in turn will improve the likelihood of securing more funding and building further mini-grids.

The mini-grids being used in the project have been developed by Winch Energy and employ a remote power unit (RPU), a containerised solution with canopy-mounted solar PV panels with battery storage, delivering reliable AC supply to rural areas.

As of June 2022, Winch had delivered 25 RPUs to Uganda, which were built and assembled in Winch’s facility in Sicily, Italy. All 25 mini-grids in Uganda and 12 mini-grids in Sierra Leone are now operational, currently providing electricity to over 3,600 customers, businesses, public buildings and industrial customers. The remaining 12 mini-grids in Sierra Leone will see an additional 3,000 customers connected and are expected to be commissioned in Q3 2022.

Around 100 people have been employed during the construction phase of the project, with over 20 full-time employees during operation.

Funding structure

Contracted date: 17 September 2021
Lending type: Senior term loan
REPP funding: USD 2.1 million

We are obviously delighted with the closing of this debt financing from FMO and REPP, which represents a landmark for the off-grid industry in Africa and worldwide. This first tranche represents the beginning of our investment program with our partner NOA and soon to follow will be additional investments in Sierra Leone and Uganda and we are also targeting Nigeria and Ethiopia for 2022.
- Nicholas Wrigley, CEO, Winch Energy