Malawi is one of the least electrified countries in the world. Only 18% of Malawi’s 18.14 million inhabitants have access to electricity (11.4% provided by the grid network; 6.6% provided through off-grid energy solutions).
After visiting the intended sites in central region, our team proceeded towards Southern Malawi and visited Bondo microhydro project. It is located in Mulanje district, 390 kms away from capital which is home to Mount Mulanje and Sapitwa peak, the highest peak in Malawi. Bondo micro-hydro power project is one among the three micro-hydro projects installed by MEGA (Mulanje Electricity Generation Agency). MEGA is a social enterprise which aims to provide reliable and affordable power supply through environmentally friendly solutions. It is owned by Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT), an environmental endowment trust supporting biodiversity and conservation around Mount Mulanje. MMCT has installed three micro-hydro projects namely, Bondo 1, Bondo 2, and Bondo 3 in the region. MEGA is responsible for maintenance and operation of these projects. The mini-grid infrastructure for these projects has been funded by international development agencies. However, maintenance and operation are managed through revenue collected from electricity tariffs charged to consumers. There are three power houses built for each of the three (Bondo 1, Bondo 2, and Bondo 3) projects but three of them are injecting power to a single mini grid, i.e., three of the generators are interconnected. Firstly, Bondo 1 was built and when demand for power increased with a greater number of customers, subsequently Bondo 2 and Bondo 3 were commissioned. Three of the power houses are located at different elevations with respect to each other. Interestingly, water coming out at outlet from Bondo 1 is the intake for Bondo 3.
Household respondent at Bondo Village (image credit: H. Vallecha)
After visiting Mulanje, we went to Chikwawa (110 kms from Mulanje) to visit Oleole, a distant village located far in interior on a rough terrain. It took us two hours to reach the village from main highway due to poor roads. There, we visited a community solar PV power plant established in 2018. It is a 25 kW solar PV generation system where 15 kW is for household energy use while 10 kW is dedicated for irrigation pumps. The system currently supplies electricity to 17 households and six businesses. In addition, there are around 35 subscribers for irrigation system. The project was installed through funding received from European Union and is presently managed by the Village Energy Committee. The project encountered some major operational challenges in last few years when their prepaid metering system fails. It is still facing financial issues due to lack of revenue and minimum number of customers to operate the system sustainably.
Community Solar PV installation at village Oleole (image credit: H. Vallecha)
Featured image, top: Bondo Community Micro Hydro Power Scheme (image credit: H. Vallecha)