COP26 case studies
A new chapter for solar power in Malawi

A solar microgrid has been installed in the Dedza district of Malawi, bringing a stable and low carbon electricity provision to a village previously unconnected.

Green landscapes with mountains of different shapes in Malawi.

The installation marks the first step in a new social enterprise strategy to provide sustainable energy access to 1 million people over the next 10 years and help achieve Malawi's Sustainable Development Goal targets.

With the investment obtained through the EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account, Strathclyde researcher Aran Eales has been working with United Purpose Malawi to support microgrid development for the last year. Through a  virtual secondment, Aran has been sharing smart grid and entrepreneurship knowhow from Strathclyde to help progress the microgrid installation, and to develop a detailed business plan and strategy for scaling operations across Malawi.

Solar power is key to solving Malawi’s energy crisis

Over 12 million people in Malawi currently do not have access to electricity, impacting negatively on health, education and economic development. Solar photovoltaic (PV) power offers a low-cost way to reduce poverty and stimulate economic growth in remote areas unlikely to get a grid connection in the near future.

The microgrid installed in Dedza follows a design approach developed by Strathclyde that has a central generation system with solar PV panels, batteries and electronics, to provide wired connections to households and businesses.

Customers on this network pay for services through a dedicated people centred tariff based on usage that is supported through an innovative smart metering platform.  The 12kW microgrid that has been developed is the first of its kind in Malawi. It offers a new method of rural electrification that allows for more electricity production and provides higher impact than solar lanterns currently offered, but cheaper, quicker to implement and potentially more financially sustainable than larger capacity minigrids currently deployed in Malawi.

Social enterprises offer a sustainable business model for energy provision

Social enterprises are organisations that trade for a social purpose and offer innovative delivery models that are neither public nor private sector-led.

The social enterprise strategy and business plan developed by Strathclyde for United Purpose Malawi adopts this approach for energy access. It includes in-depth planning of high-impact sales and services, a detailed financial plan, operational structures and a coherent strategy for growth. As well as offering solar microgrids, the social enterprise will provide solar home systems and clean cooking solutions to rural communities living in poverty.

The environment of energy businesses is challenging in Malawi, and the project faced challenges through regulatory hurdles and an underdeveloped supply chain. A key element of the business strategy is to mitigate these risks, and address the challenge of resilient financial planning that balances sufficient income from tariff sales to cover operation and maintenance with low affordability of rural customers, while ensuring maximum social and environmental impact.

The first step on the road to energy access for 1 million

The microgrid project is one element of the wider £1.3m Scottish Government funded Decentralised Rural Energy Access through Social Enterprise (EASE) project that is also implementing energy enterprise hubs and working with the government of Malawi to improve energy policy through District Energy Officers. The EASE project has funding for another microgrid, as well as supporting United Purpose towards their aim of providing 1 million people with energy access by 2020.

The EASE project is an excellent example of high-impact collaboration between academia and NGOs...

The secondment supported the translation of UK smart grid technical and business innovation to the Malawian microgrid context, providing the skills and expertise to evaluate, map and translate innovation opportunities into United Purpose Malawi’s strategy for microgrid roll-out and scale-up.

Lloyd Archer, from United Purpose said: "The EASE project is an excellent example of high-impact collaboration between academia and NGOs which has laid the foundations for a long-term partnership between United Purpose and Mthembanji village to bring about sustained change."