June 22, 2024

Solar Energy Resolves Malawi’s Electricity Crisis

The reduced cost of solar power has made electricity affordable for low-income households. Off-grid electricity is essential for rapidly expanding access to electricity in many households that are distant from the national grid and where affordability is a concern.

Introduction of Solar-Powered Lighting

In Malawi, only 23% of the population has access to electricity, leaving most villages in darkness after sunset. Households rely on battery-powered torches, candles, and kerosene lamps for lighting, making daily activities and security challenging. School children struggle to study in poor lighting or are unable to study at all.

This situation is improving for many households thanks to the introduction of solar-powered lighting provided by the private sector with support from the World Bank and other impact investors.

Rose John Soko from Shuga Village in Chiradzulu district, Southern Malawi, installed a solar-powered lighting system through the World Bank's Malawi Electricity Access Project (MEAP). MEAP supports the Government of Malawi's Off-Grid Market Development Fund, known as Ngwee Ngwee Ngwee, to make solar-powered electricity affordable for low-income households.

Affordable Solar Products

The Ngwee Ngwee Ngwee Fund provides capital and grants to boost the off-grid solar market, partnering with five major solar companies to supply solar home systems to one million people. Soko's package from Yellow Solar Company, one of the participating companies, includes four bulbs and a built-in FM radio, offering her significant improvements over candles and mobile phone lights.

Ungopanga Kanyemba, a sales agent for Yellow Solar, reports that since November 2023, over 50 households have benefitted from the affordable Biolite package, and demand is increasing.

The reduced cost of solar electricity has made the package affordable, giving customers options. They can either pay upfront for the Biolite package at $58, which is about $10 less than the market price, or opt for monthly installments at a discounted rate.

Junior Kalata from Sasu village no longer pays to charge his phone at the marketplace, thanks to a new solar facility at his home. Now, both he and his wife, Charity, can charge their phones at home and he no longer needs to buy batteries for his torch.

Akimu Nasiyaya from Namputu village in Mulanje district shared a similar benefit. He used to light his house with an old car battery that also powered his radio, requiring frequent recharging. With the new solar-powered lights, the car battery now only powers his radio, allowing him to listen to music for hours. Nasiyaya installed his solar system with help from the Ngwee Ngwee Ngwee Fund and Zuwa Energy.

Malawi Electricity Access Project (MEAP)

The 2019 Malawi Energy Access Project (MEAP) is a $100 million initiative aiming to provide electricity to about 1.9 million people, roughly 9.5% of the population. Over the past year, 140,000 households, or 3.5% of the population, have gained access to electricity, increasing the national access rate from 19% to 23%.

MEAP aims to connect 180,000 on-grid households and 200,000 off-grid households by June 2025, raising the overall access rate to around 28%. The on-grid connection rate has hit a record high of 70,000 in the past year, significantly surpassing the previous annual maximum of 30,000 connections.

Michael Gondwe, a Senior Energy Specialist at the World Bank, highlighted the rapid growth in off-grid access due to similar initiatives over the past seven years. He emphasized that off-grid solutions are essential for Malawi's predominantly rural population, where electricity access was only about 4% at the start of MEAP. This project supports the Government's goal of achieving a 50% electricity access rate by 2030 as part of the Malawi 2063 Vision.

The impact of solar energy in addressing Malawi's electricity crisis cannot be overstated. The integration of off-grid solar solutions has brought affordable and reliable electricity to numerous low-income households, transforming daily life for many Malawians. Through initiatives like the Malawi Electricity Access Project (MEAP) and the Ngwee Ngwee Ngwee Fund, supported by the World Bank and private sector partners, communities that once relied on candles, kerosene lamps, and batteries now enjoy clean, renewable energy.

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