Masters Student, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh.
The MEGA micro-hydro project in Mulanje, Malawi, began to generate electricity in 2013 providing first time electricity access to a rural off-grid community. Only three years later, the impacts are visible. Conversations with local residents and community members were extremely positive about the impacts of the project, providing increased opportunities for the community to flourish and grow. Residents regard the scheme as extremely reliable and robust, especially when compared to solar products which many admitted are initially excellent but once broken, end up as waste since they lack expertise to maintain and repair them within the community.
The schools and local clinic reported exceptional impacts with new access to lighting at night. The school is open later and students are now able to study at night, resulting in grade increases. The clinic is now able to perform much safer births given the lighting at night, no longer in fear that candles will run out or blow out in the middle of the night.
Naturally, access to electricity for this community, in a country with only 8-9% central grid electricity provision, has had tremendous impacts on attracting new people and even professionals into the community. The local authorities, schools, and hospital spoke of higher numbers of applications of qualified teachers, doctors and nurses, and other professionals due to having guaranteed electricity access in their homes. Surely, this will only help the community flourish even more.
Local businesses continue to pop up throughout the community as a result of the electricity, including more local shops and even local barber shops. Community members spoke of increased feelings of safety and security throughout the village due to people adding outside lighting surrounding their homes. People also spoke of the busying night life within the community, as access to lights allow people to stay up later and socialize more with one another.
Furthermore, the timing for exploring the potential of decentralized renewable energy sources could not be better! In the wake of global climate change and shifts to move away from conventional fossil fuel based energy sources, projects such as MEGA provide valuable insight into the potential of this alternative solution for off-grid communities.