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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid