About 200 households in the area of Traditional Authority (TA) Kabunduli in Nkhata Bay are enjoying the luxury of having electricity locally generated using mini generators made from scrap metal.
A total of 150 water driven generators, separately installed along Kavuzi River in the area, are able to produce between 20 to 35 kilowatts of power each, shared between two to three households.
One of the beneficiaries of the initiative, Violet Nkhata of Chumba Nkhata village, in the area said in an interview on Monday in Nkhata Bay that she is excited for being able to access electricity despite being far away from the national electricity grid.
“We cannot talk of Escom because the national grid is nowhere closer to this place. We therefore enjoy the luxury of electricity through what our local artisans have managed to assemble using scrap metal,” she said.
Nkhata said meanwhile the amount of electricity generated only allows them to use for lighting besides operating TVs and radios.
She lamented that the communities are not able to use heavy electric equipment like pressing irons and hotplates because of low voltage which she attributed to low water flow that propels the generators.
Nkhata appealed to government through the Ministry of Natural Resources Energy and Mining to assist them with bigger generators which would produce adequate voltage to drive bigger machines like grinding mills.
Acting Director of Energy Affairs in the Ministry of Natural Resources Energy and Mining, Joseph Kalowekamo said as a Ministry responsible for Energy in collaboration with the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA), they are engaging the communities using these systems to generate electricity to come up with a solution to the challenges they are facing.
“We do appreciate the initiative; we do appreciate the innovativeness that is there but we need to work on the safety issues.
“So what we are doing is to engage them; we do not want to impose things on them. So we are in discussions with them,” he said.
Kalowekamo said among the many things they are considering as a department is to assist them acquire insulated wires which they could use for safety and improve on the efficiency of the systems.
The Acting Director commended the communities’ initiative noting that it was in tandem with government’s objective of bringing electricity to the remotest areas that would otherwise not make economic sense to extend the national grid there.
“In fact the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is financially supporting these systems which we call off-grid solutions comprising solar home systems and mini-grids to electrify areas far away from the national grid,” he said.
According to Andrew Spezwoka, UNDP Portfolio Manager in Malawi for Resilience and Sustainable Growth, less than 1% of Malawi’s rural population has access to electricity.
“Malawi is very much reliant on hydropower with a few hydropower installations and when you look at the transformative role that energy plays in many ways, the lack of it is putting a break on development progress of the nation,” he said.
Spezwoka said UNDPs role has been to assist government not only to increase electricity generation capacity but to also directly facilitate the private sector to play a stronger role in energy provision in the country.
He added, “We recognize that country’s current generation capacity is around 354 megawatts which is tremendously low compared to the demand in the country. While investments are made to expand generation and extend the grid, we can actually make investments now through social entrepreneurs in the country to provide energy services through mini-grids to households and businesses.”
The Department of Energy in the Ministry of Natural Resources Energy and Mining is facilitating the establishment of mini-grids in a number of sites that include Bondo in Mulanje, Sitolo in Mchinji, Kavuzi in Nkhata Bay and Mantchewe in Rumphi.
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