Victor Chambayika Mhango,
Practical Action Consulting-Malawi
In a country of 17 million people, it should not be acceptable that only 1% of those living in rural communities have access to clean energy. Lack of access to modern energy services is a major obstacle to the delivery of socio-economic services such as education and health in most developing countries in general. This is particularly so in Malawi where 85% of the population live in rural areas but only 1% have access to electricity.
Efforts to connect rural communities to the national grid is hampered by technical and economic challenges which makes it necessary to find alternative solutions to power such communities. Practical Action has been working with MEGA since its inception and the company has demonstrated the organization’s goal of increasing universal energy access through provision of modern energy for cooking, lighting and productive use in poor rural areas. Practical Action operates across the globe to promote small-scale hydro schemes that generate up to 500 kilowatts of power. Apart from MEGA in Malawi, Practical Action has developed micro-hydro systems with communities in Peru, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. Similar to MEGA, most of these systems, which are designed to operate for a minimum of 20 years, are usually 'run-of-the-river' systems.
Practical Action is proud to be associated with the first ever licensed Independent Power Producer company in Malawi. The social enterprise model that MEGA is following ensures sustainability in the long run and that communities continue to enjoy the benefits of such infrastructure beyond the time the catalysts such as Practical Action and related stakeholders work in their communities. Practical Action through its consulting business, Practical Action Consulting, has plans to scale up and replicate the MEGA model across Malawi. Practical Action is currently implementing the Sustainable Energy for Rural Communities (SE4RC) in Chikwawa and Nsanje districts which will use lessons from MEGA operations to establish sustainably operated solar energy kiosks and irrigation schemes among other technologies. In the future, Practical Action would like to see more decentralized power generation and distribution enterprises similar to MEGA that are providing access to energy to thousands of households and social institutions across Malawi.
Practical Action’s aspiration is that micro-hydro schemes such as MEGA contribute to its efforts towards achieving technology justice by providing poor communities with access to affordable, easy to maintain and long-term solutions to their energy needs. Malawi being an agrarian based economy will benefit from micro-hydro schemes that have potential to strengthen the communities’ activities in the areas of agriculture, domestic use and livelihoods. Practical Action has already observed increased agricultural productivity, mushrooming of small-scale businesses and a vibrant community around MEGA. Access to energy through such low cost technologies has the capacity to bring rural communities same results as people connected to the grid such as improved incomes, food security and better quality of life. People, especially women, around Bondo have reported improvements in carrying out domestic chores as well as increased scope of productive livelihood options since the coming of MEGA. Moving around the community, one can visibly notice that the use of electricity at household level has resulted in healthier home environments, whilst essential services such as schools, clinics, grinding mills are providing more efficient services that are enabling the community to thrive.