Liberian President Lights Up Rural Malawi


Lilongwe ‑ Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently presided over the switching on of electricity in one of Malawi's ambitious Rural Electrification Projects aimed at lighting up 81 rural trade centres across the country.

Malawi's electrification total electrification rate is pegged at 11 percent, however, the electrification rate of households in rural areas, where about 80 percent of the population lives, still remains less than 1 percent.

“With the right agenda, policies, determination and commitment Africa has reach a point where we can reach the competitive position just as other regions of the world,” says the Liberian leader.

Currently, the rapidity of rural electrification in most African countries is lower than the rural population growth because of low population densities in rural areas, which result in high capital and operating costs for electricity providing institutions.

During the launch of Kapichira II Hydro Power Station last month, Malawi President Joyce Banda announced her intention to light up 81 rural trade centres. The recent event marks Phase 7 of the US$17 million Malawi Rural Electrification Programme (MAREP).

Principal Secretary in the southern African nation's Minister of Energy, Winford Masanjala, says the MAREP aims at electrifying rural and peri-urban communities in order to reduce poverty by transforming rural communities Under the MAREP Phase 7, the Malawi government is expected to light up 27 of the 81 centres.

Masanjala says under Phase 6, government electrified 54 trading centres at US$6 million.

Apart from the MAREP, the Malawi government last year signed a Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) deal with the American government focusing on ensuring that electricity is used for productive economic activities in addition to providing power at household level.

Studies have indicated that rural electrification significantly impacts the poor by raising household incomes by almost 50 percent.

The MCA-Malawi project will pay attention to developing a mini-grid in a rural community in order to ensure that the demand for power determines the suitability of a particular site. According to the MCA project, other factors that will be considered in identifying and determining potential sites include, number of households, cash crop production as well as other economic activities, including potential businesses that would arise due to the availability of power. The project will target possible productive uses of the power, including cold storage, milling; distance to nearest markets and monthly household expenditure on electricity substitutes.

MAREP has previously been supported by the Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA), which has provided assistance to Malawi, including debt relief grant support, dispatch of experts to serve as long-term advisors, the formulation of rural electrification master plans through development studies and installation of solar power generation facilities.

The main purpose of the MAREP is to improve the rate of household electrification through the extension of distribution lines and the expanded use of solar power generation systems. This is expected to be achieved through the implementation of socioeconomic studies concerning electric power demand and the increase in electrical connections in newly electrified sites. 

Malawi through its power utility body the Electricity Supply Commission of Malawi (Escom) and private public partnerships (PPP) plans to expand the existing grid through a rural electrification model that saves households on their energy expenditure, gives them more opportunities to increase income, is financially sustainable and can be installed and scaled-up easily.

Another form of electricity supply is the installation of electricity kiosks, which is a battery charging station using solar, micro-hydro or other type of (renewable) energy for generation of the electricity.

At domestic level, the electricity kiosk can use the electricity for lighting, phone charging and to power a radio.

The batteries can be recharged using various sources of (renewable) generation such as through a solar panel, micro-hydro power plant or by connecting it to an electricity grid.

The electricity kiosk will supply basic electricity to households and small businesses currently not connected to the electricity grid. They will benefit through the electricity kiosk by saving on household energy expenditure.

February 2014
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