The Foundation Rural Energy Services (FRES) has gradually become an indispensable organisation in some African countries. Since its foundation in 2001 FRES now provides solar energy to more than 240,000 people in Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Uganda and South Africa and has invested more than 26 million Euros in projects in Africa.
On 20th February 2013, the new office of FRES Uganda was officially opened. As a leader in the field of rural electrification FRES promotes economic development in Africa by giving people access to safe and affordable electricity; a basic need. The Solar Home Systems provide customers with electricity for lighting, radio / TV, use of mobile phones and other electrical devices
It is not always a simple matter to set up a professional organisation in Africa. FRES also had to deal with fraud, theft, defaulters, war and much political instability. Despite these setbacks, after twelve years there is a stable business structure which can provide solar energy to large rural areas. A few foreign experts provide training to local staff in the local FRES offices. With currently 223 local employees FRES has manifested itself as one of the few stable companies in these regions, as well as a pioneer in the field of solar energy in Africa.
Mirjam Blaak, Ambassador, Head of Mission Brussels responsible for the Benelux countries, the EU and the International organizations based in the Hague, has witnessed the impact of FRES in the rural areas: “The work of FRES in Uganda, gives a large boost to the local economy. This is extremely important if the population in these rural areas want to grow to a level of development that we have in mind. I think that there are too few initiatives like this. Western entrepreneurs see too many obstacles while with the necessary tenacity tremendous progress can be booked here. FRES creates a professional entrepreneurial environment in the rural areas so that the connection to the city improves. Just being able to charge cell phones enables that. ”
The first results of an impact study conducted by PWC and the Rotterdam Erasmus University show that FRES has a big influence in the rural areas. Access to energy stimulates the economy, school performance and safety on the street. As a downside local customers say that they sometimes feel unsafe at home, because of the fear of being robbed of their solar panels. This problem is now countered by installing anti-intrusion systems to the solar panels,
Currently about half of Africans lives in urban areas and this number continues to grow. This threatens to increase the income gap between urban and rural areas. Thanks to the stimulation of economic development in rural areas, urbanization in these countries is counteracted. The First Lady of Uganda and Honorable Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Janet K. Museveni encourages initiatives like FRES: “Our country desperately needs companies in rural areas especially in power, because we don’t want everybody to move to the big cities. Therefore investments in solar energy by FRES are timely and welcome. They are going to help our rural communities enjoy living and working where they are”.
The users of the Solar Home Systems are just the beginning of a much larger development. Worldwide, 1.5 billion people lack access to electricity. In Uganda, this applies to 92% of the rural population. The FRES approach appears to be a good concept for rural electrification and development. This is recognised by the World Bank and other (inter)national donors, who co-finance various projects and want to accelerate wider application of solar energy.