By: Mathews Chilemba, Project Manager at 14 Trees Company, Malawi. Graduate of the Clean Energy 4 Africa Volunteers Program 2020.

Malawi is a landlocked country in south-eastern Africa, bordered by Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique, with a population of about 19 million people. Although the country’s economy is primarily a rural one, its urbanizing annual rate of about 3.5 percent is higher than the average amongst Sub-Saharan countries. However compared to its neighbors within the Sub-Sahara region Malawi’s power sector is one of the most severely constrained with less than 10% of the population connected to the national grid and only 1% of the remaining 90% of the population having access to electricity.

Looking at the country’s energy consumption sectors and sources of energy used (see Figures 1 and 2 below) then we find that the household sector is the largest single consumer of energy, followed by the industrial and transport sectors. Rural households utilized the greatest proportion of the energy (77%) out of which 97% is rooted from biomass source represented by firewood, charcoal and crop residues. The principal end uses of fuel were cooking and lighting. Firewood, charcoal and crop residues were used for cooking while paraffin is used for lighting. The main energy uses within the industrial sector were  process heating, motive power, and lighting. While coal supplied 53.3% of the total industrial energy demand, the electricity and biomass sources supplied 17.8% and 27.7% of the remaining energy demand respectively.

Figure 1: Malawi’s Energy consumption sectors.
Figure 2: Malawi’s Energy supply sources.

Acknowledging this huge power shortage and unbalance, the government of Malawi and since 2003, developed an energy policy. The Malawi’s energy Policy aim was to guide the planning and implementation of programs, projects and activities within the energy sector in order to increase the access of affordable, reliable and sustainable energy services to every individual within the country. Equipped with an Implementation and  a Monitoring and Evaluation Plan with time-bound deliverables, and clear updated objectives, strategies and priority actions the  policy however was struck with challenges. One goal represented by the energy policy entailed having 10% of the household and business sectors within the country be receiving their energy from renewables by year 2030. Although there are reports that there is an increase in the number of signed independent power purchase agreements and there is a noticeable funding for solar home systems in the rural areas, there is still no official reports from the ministry of energy or stakeholders involved on any progress made concerning the 2030 targets.

Studying the Malawi’s energy sector as whole and how renewables could contribute to the sector,  there are still persistent barriers which need to be tackled to provide a quick uptake and facilitate renewables adoption within the country. Key ones include:

  1. Capital for investment is a key challenge in Malawi as energy business models are not commonly understood by Malawian banks, and financial players tend to be risk averse. Interest rates in Malawi are extremely high, with banks regularly charging in excess of 25%.
  2. Low quality products such as solar panels due to limited capacity to enforce standards by Malawi Bureau of Standards. (MBS)
  3. Human resources for renewable energy development and implementation are lacking at all levels. Challenges exist in developing the wide ranging skills set required to successfully develop businesses, including among others: negotiation, business, presentation, finance, contracting, regulations, technology, partnerships, planning, data and IT.
  4. Rigorous Regulation, in its current form, appears to impede the implementation of mini-grids. There will be need to rationalize and make appropriate amendments while ensuring safety and quality in service delivery.
  5. Although the Government has waived all import duties on renewable energy technologies, the customer still has to pay 16.5% VAT of the purchase price. This may explain the low market penetration of renewable energy technologies
  6. Determining the Ability and Willingness of customers to pay is an inherently difficult process. High uncertainty exists in determining the expected electricity demand of previously unconnected villages.
  7. Power purchase agreements delays and its operating environment seem to prevent IPP entry into the power generation.

With all the odds, lack of info and challenges we still see successful stories within the country.

Community Energy Malawi (CEM), with the help from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and government, implemented a project to increase the number of Malawians with access to renewable energy for both domestic and commercial use. The 80kW Solar Project in Sitolo Village lies in the Mchinji district. Many residents at Sitolo village have been connected and have been purchasing metered power from the scheme since May of 2019. At the moment the scheme serves 250 households, 6 schools, 5 health clinic and 2 maize mills as well as a variety of business enterprises within the communities surrounding Group Village Headman Sitilo. Thanks to this development, the inhabitants benefited from a non-stop access to electricity in their houses, schools and Health Centers, thereby being offered an overall better quality of life see Figures 3 and 4.

Figures 3 and 4: Sitilo village transformed. One of the happy beneficiaries.

In conclusion, the future of Malawi clearly needs to make the transition away from current practices into a modern, sustainable, energy sector which meets the needs of the people, helps boost the economy, and safeguards the country’s environment. Both solar and wind energies could be seen to as two strong candidates together that can help create a resilient energy sector for Malawi.

Solar and Wind provide more productive power and enhanced services to smaller household for personal solutions. In some instances, Solar systems offer services comparable with those provided by a national power grid. Therefore, solar can help local enterprises reliant on a secure, productive renewable supply to become established and generate income from businesses which are in demand in the community while allowing for greatly improved local services such as education and healthcare. Renewable energy services to underlying agriculture irrigation schemes, clinics, schools and small businesses potential is huge.

About the Author:

Mathews Chilemba
Mathews Chilemba

Project Manager at 14 Trees limited, a residential housing construction company in Malawi. His work focuses on building simple, quality DURABRIC homes using sustainable construction materials and renewable energy systems.
Through DURABRIC Homes project, Mathews at 14 Trees aimed at scaling up impact on affordable housing across Malawi and at the same time alleviate the problem of deforestation due to the high demand for wood used in the production of clay burnt bricks, and lack of descent affordable housing.


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