On 20th March, the SOGERV project hosted a knowledge exchange workshop in Lilongwe. Stakeholders from across the energy sector were invited to present their experiences regarding deployment of off-grid electricity solutions in Malawi. The SOGERV team (UoS, United Purpose and WASHTED) were joined by representatives from the GoM Dept of Energy Affairs, Community Energy Malawi, Mulanje Renewable Energy Agency (MuREA), and the Renewable Energy Industry Association of Malawi (REIAMA).
Thokozani Malunga, Principal Energy Officer with the Dept. of Energy Affairs, opened the event by updating the group on the Malawi Renewable Energy Strategy (MRES). The importance of off-grid solutions to delivering the MRES targets was stressed and key initiatives to support off-grid energy were highlighted. A commitment to innovative policy mechanisms such as the roll out of District Energy Officers and the opening up of the central rural electrification to off-grid projects generated much debate and enthusiasm amongst the stakeholder group.
REIAMA provided an overview of their organisation and commentary on the role of industry in growing the off-grid sector. The importance of high quality contractors and technicians was highlighted and the group discussed how REIAMA could provide a gateway for projects looking for reputable companies.
Arnold Kadziponye from MuREA (MEGA) provided a valuable overview of the many challenges associated with mini-grid deployment. The Bondo mini-grid has blazed a trail for larger scale off-grid rural-electrification in Malawi and many critical lessons have been learned. Some new learning regarding household demand patterns is being generated – highlighting the need for larger commercial ‘anchor customers’ along with reaching a ‘critical mass’ of customers for mini-grids of this scale to achieve a sustainable business model.
Each of the SOGERV partners presented a learning topic drawn from the project. UP presented on the community ‘franchise’ business model approach, WASHTED presented on the technical design and the role of remote monitoring for asset management and research, and UoS presented some reflections on the SOGERV market assessment (what our comprehensive market assessment predicted, versus what we found in reality).
Overall, the workshop highlighted the growth of the off-grid energy sector in Malawi. Decentralised rural electrification is gaining momentum through the work of committed stakeholders and offers the potential to make a significant contribution to achieving MRES targets and delivering on SE4All and SDG7 ambitions.