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Vision

MEGA is a social enterprise that aims to provide a widely available, affordable and reliable electricity supply through an environmentally and financially sustainable business model.

About

MEGA is a social enterprise based on a model of operational sustainability. The mini-grid infrastructure is funded by international donor agencies, whilst revenue from electricity sales contributes to the cost of operation and maintenance. Customers are connected to the grid via pre-payment meters. Access to electricity has a long-term transformative effect on the social and economic well-being in the communities. MEGA is the first licensed Independent Power Producer in Malawi. It has both a Generation and Distribution License issued form the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority.

The MEGA business plan was developed with support from the British Government’s Department for International Development through the Business Innovation Facility. MEGA is wholly owned by Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT). MMCT is an endowment trust supporting conservation and development around the mountain.

MEGA registered as a business in 2014 and sold the first units of electricity in January 2016. Though construction of the micro-hydro mini-grid started earlier lead by the project partners.

Partners

Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) is an environmental endowment trust supporting biodiversity research and conservation around Mount Mulanje.  MMCT works hand in hand with local communities to promote diversification of livelihoods as a pathway to improved natural resource management. It works with local government and community groups to protect and reforest the watershed. MMCT is the principal shareholder for MEGA. 

 

Mulanje Renewable Energy Agency (MuREA) is an implementing arm of MMCT. It supports local communities and small enterprises to promote efficient use of energy resources. MuREA works with entrepreneurs to help them use electricity productively, providing business and skills training and linking with finance providers. MuREA is also supporting the schools and clinics that are connected to the MEGA grid to make the most of the electricity supply.

 

Practical Action provides project management assistance and lead on knowledge capture and dissemination.  It provides strategic advice to MEGA as a social enterprise, and is represented on the MEGA Board. Practical Action also supports fundraising efforts and coordination with other initiatives.  Practical Action was the lead implementer of the first micro-hydro mini-grid in Bondo village in partnership with MMCT and MuREA, and has been an important investor for MEGA. Practical Action has been implementing community-based renewable energy systems in developing countries for more than 40 years. It is a UK-based NGO with operations across the developing world. It has a project office in Malawi and a regional office in Zimbabwe.

 

Sukambizi is an investor partner for MEGA, it has funded extension of the mini-grid and connection of many households.  Sukambizi is a smallholder tea farmer association registered as a Fairtrade Outgrower Trust. It is associated with Lujeri Estate.  The 9,000 smallholder members live in the communities served by MEGA’s mini-grid, on the periphery of the Lujeri Estate. The Trust’s income is made on the premium farmers receive through the sale of Fairtrade produce. It invests in priority community projects that support social and economic development.

 

Founded and headquartered in Glasgow twelve years ago, and brimming with Scottish expertise in a variety of fields, SgurrEnergy has matured into a globally respected, multi-disciplinary renewable energy consultancy with offices in 12 international locations.  SgurrEnergy is the lead implementing partner in the Powering Development in Mulanje project, providing professional engineering and project management services.

 

Local context

Mulanje district is rural, yet one of the most populous and densely inhabited districts in Malawi. It has high levels of poverty and economic challenges abound.

Mount Mulanje is the highest peak in Central Africa - Sapitwa peak reaches to 3,002m. It is a huge, isolated massif with 20 peaks of more than 2,500m rising out of a plateau. A great impression of impregnability is given by its precipitous flanks which rise abruptly from the flat plain below. 

The mountain is a biodiversity hotspot and home to the Mulanje Cedar – a valuable endemic tree species much threatened by loggers and forest fires. There are also severe pressures from extensive upland agriculture and charcoal production. Land and watershed degradation is a serious problem on Mulanje; spoilage of the environment and natural resource base increase vulnerability to climate change and likelihood of disasters such as flooding and droughts.

Mulanje is a very fertile area thanks to the high levels of rainfall attracted by the mountain. It is home to many tea estates that employ large numbers of people and engage thousands of smallholder farmers that live on the peripheries of the estates. The lush climate also supports a rich fruit harvest of pineapples, mangoes, avocados and bananas. 

Energy Access in Malawi

Only 1 in 10 people in Malawi have access to grid electricity. The situation is particularly bad in rural areas where only 1 in 100 have access.  Most people live without hope of having electricity in their homes.  

It is estimated that mini-grids are the most economically viable electricity access solution for more than 4.5 million Malawians, 27% of the people currently living without electricity in the country.  Malawi is considered one of the more suitable countries in the region for a dedicated mini-grid programme.

 

MEGA

ESCOM

 

Single phase

(MK / kWh)

Single phase

USD c/ kWh

Single Phase (MK / kWh)

Three Phase (MK / kWh)

Community Institutions

22

5.5

26

40

Household

44

11

26

40

Business

78

19.5

45

47

Economic analysis of electrification technologies for Malawi (DfID, 2013) 

Mini-grids are most appropriate in areas with a population density above 250 inhabitants per km2, and more than 5km from the medium-voltage grid line.  Medium voltage grid line extension typically costs $13-15,000 per km2, although anecdotal evidence from Malawi quotes two to three times this price.  In low-density areas where mini-grids are less viable as the cost of distribution becomes prohibitive, electricity kiosks and stand-alone technologies such as solar lanterns or solar/wind home systems become more attractive.

There are very few mini-grids operational in Malawi. ESCOM operates a diesel mini-grid on Likoma Island on lake Malawi, and there are various large businesses that have their own systems for industrial purposes (such as Lujeri Estate’s 1MW hydro plant).  Nonetheless, the country’s early innovators provide valuable experience and inspiration to grow the sector.

 

 

MEGA’s Mini-Grid Technology

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MEGA currently has an installed 60kW micro-hydro generator and more than 280 customers connected with some 20km of mini-grid distribution.  The micro-hydro generator uses water from the Lichenya river, and the mini-grid is centred in GVH Bondo on the southern side of Mount Mulanje. 

Figure: Schematic of a micro-hydro power system

Figure: Schematic of a micro-hydro power system

The micro-hydro generator is a run-of-the-river scheme. This type of scheme requires no water storage but instead diverts some of the water from the river which is channelled along the side of a valley before being ‘dropped’ into the turbine via a penstock pipe. The Lower Bondo system operates with 300 litres/second of water with a head of 50 metres. The weir is a permanent concrete structure and the channel is some 600 metres long. The turbine is a three-jet pelton wheel manufactured in Zimbabwe. The system is regulated by an electronic load controller that monitors demand and dumps excess power.

The mini-grid network consists of medium voltage (11 kV) transmission and four substations distributing three-phase power at 400 V. The substations are strategically placed at centres in the village; Bondo has a relatively high population density. The powerhouse is 8 km from the National Grid, though the mini-grid extends to within 3km at the closest point. 

Figure: MEGA’s mini-grid. (Yellow = MV line. Blue = LV line. Red = Distribution poles)

Download the file to view the mini-grid in Google Earth. 

Each customer has a pre-payment meter and top-ups up with tokens from MEGA’s vending system. The tariff is higher than from ESCOM, the National Utility, to reflect the high cost of doing business and relatively low demand of rural customers.

 

MEGA

ESCOM

 

Single phase

(MK / kWh)

Single phase

USD c/ kWh

Single Phase (MK / kWh)

Three Phase (MK / kWh)

Community Institutions

22

5.5

26

40

Household

44

11

26

40

Business

78

19.5

45

47


MEGA has been issued both a Generation and a Distribution license from MERA and is compliant with national grid codes.  

A second generator of around 100kW is being installed and will be operational in 2017.  Grid densification and extension is ongoing, with a target of 400 new connections by 2018.

Learn more about the technology 

Micro-hydro power Technical Brief

 

 

 

Micro-grids Technical Brief

 

Upper Bondo

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Building the Intake Channe Aqueduct

Building the Intake Channe Aqueduct

The Intake Weir

The Intake Weir

The Penstrock Construction nearing Completion

The Penstrock Construction nearing Completion

The new road completed

The new road completed

A Stream Crossing on the new road

A Stream Crossing on the new road