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)
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid