News / Africa

Rural Malawi Lights Up with Solar Power

Customers wait at solar energy kiosk in Phalombe district operated by non-profit RENAMA. (VOA/Lameck Masina)Customers wait at solar energy kiosk in Phalombe district operated by non-profit RENAMA. (VOA/Lameck Masina)
x
Customers wait at solar energy kiosk in Phalombe district operated by non-profit RENAMA. (VOA/Lameck Masina)
Customers wait at solar energy kiosk in Phalombe district operated by non-profit RENAMA. (VOA/Lameck Masina)
Lameck Masina
A local non-proft organization and its partners have embarked on an innovative project to provide electricity to rural communities that have no electricity.  Two pilot “energy kiosks” now bring solar energy for a small fee to rural Malawi residents not connected to the national electricity grid.

Residents of the two remote communities are far from Malawi’s power grid but can now rent small battery packs to light their homes and charge their electronic devices with solar power.

With start-up funding from the Scottish Government, the Rural Off-Grid Energy Kiosks project, the first of its kind in Malawi, has piloted energy kiosks in each of two southern districts of Thyolo and Phalombe targeting about 400 households.

Carry-out solar power

Residents go to one of these energy kiosks, a small building topped with solar panels that collect solar energy by day to store in small portable battery boxes. Neighbors come to the kiosk to rent battery boxes to take home to light their homes at night, recharge their cell phones, computers and other electronic devices and return the battery boxes to the kiosk the next day for recharging.

RENAMA employee Mayamiko Minofu explains portable solar-powered battery boxes and other rental products to rural customers. (VOA/Lameck Masina)RENAMA employee Mayamiko Minofu explains portable solar-powered battery boxes and other rental products to rural customers. (VOA/Lameck Masina)
x
RENAMA employee Mayamiko Minofu explains portable solar-powered battery boxes and other rental products to rural customers. (VOA/Lameck Masina)
RENAMA employee Mayamiko Minofu explains portable solar-powered battery boxes and other rental products to rural customers. (VOA/Lameck Masina)
Martina Kunert, the country director of Renew’N’Able Malawi (RENAMA), the NGO that’s implementing the effort, said, “The project was about testing the concept of community-based rental and charging stations which in this pilot generate power from solar photo-voltaic solar panels. They can also use other generation technologies, from where surrounding households can rent out battery boxes for their homes together with D/C accessories like light bulbs, phone and laptop chargers and even small low-power TV screens.”

Sustainable neighborhood management

Kunert said the kiosks are managed by two paid managers hired from the surrounding communities who are monitored and supported by a locally elected community group.
She said each kiosk has a committee of 15 volunteers from existing elected bodies.

“For example, representatives from school committees, traditional authorities and the police. So these monitor the kiosk managers and make long-term financial plans.”

The pilot phase of the project was funded by the Scottish Government until end June 2013, and was supported by RENAMA and Concern Universal field facilitators. Equinox Limited, an energy strategy company specializing in the electricity kiosk concept, provided conceptual consultancy and monitoring.

Kunert said each committee reinvests funds received from rental fees of batteries and other devices to pay for the maintenance of damaged equipment and the salaries f the  kiosk managers and guards.

Since the inception of the project, Kunert says, it has helped transform lives of many customers. 

Over 160 portable battery systems have so far been rented out to households.
The solar-powered batteries reduced health risks and increase home productivity, said Kunert.

Safer than paraffin

“We have seen a very big impact,” Kunert said. “We have done the survey among the users in June and it has shown that in terms of health effects, people feel very much relieved in terms of coughing not being so bad because they don’t use paraffin anymore in their houses. The students at Dzenje primary school [under Phalombe Project] where the school was electrified have also said they are really delighted to be given an opportunity to study in the evening”.

She said villagers are charging phones for their neighbors and some who operate small shops selling groceries such as soap or matches can stay open longer after sunset by running their shop lights with batteries charged on solar power.

A new product, a small portable battery box with small solar collectors, called the stand-alone solution, is now available for rent at a higher fee. Approximately 15 of these new boxes are rented to small businesses such as cinemas and barber shops.

RENAMA also rents solar collector panels that can be mounted on the roof of a house or business to provide a 24-hour power source.

‘I charge every two days’

“Personally, this project has assisted me much because I have been spending a lot of money to charge my phone,” said Reverend Watson Kazembe of Dzenje in Phalombe.

“I charge every two days, I pay K50 ($0.05) so by the end of the month I was paying a lot of money. And instead of using paraffin which was scarce in our area, we are using torches (flash lights) and used to buy three batteries at K150 ($0.20) each, so with this coming of energy we have saved a lot. I am able to charge my phone freely so I have the light at night so I can now save almost K2,000  ($6) a month.” 
 
Another customer, Mary Macheso, said the project has helped reduce the distance - about eight kilometers – some people needed to walk to charge their phones and car batteries at a nearby trading centre. 

Despite the progress, Kunert said they have not yet considered expanding the project to other areas. “At the moment we really want to finish the learning process because it has been not even a year that the kiosks have been there, so we are gathering a lot of information and we’ll see where it can be improved. 

“We are developing proposals to submit to donors and work with partners on how we can improve the models and the whole system so that we can cover all the areas that are not electrified in Malawi.”

She said they regularly report the progress to District Executive Committees and Department of Energy in order to develop further ideas to make the project sustainable.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid