A MEGA initiative in Malawi

Drew Corbyn
May 16th, 2013

Practical Action are working with our partners in Malawi to establish MEGA – a sustainable and ambitious social enterprise delivering green mini-grids to poor rural communities.

It is estimated that 587 million people in Africa alone are without electricity.  And as population growth outpaces the number of people getting access to electricity on the continent, this number continues to rise.  Furthermore, it’s estimated that 55% of people without electricity will be best served by decentralized technologies such as mini-grids and standalone systems.  A step-change is needed to meet this challenge; with greater focus on off-grid technologies, innovative business models and smarter investment.

Malawi and Mozambique 022The MEGA initiative is in Malawi, where 85% of the 15 million population lives in rural areas, of which only around 1% has electricity – there are 12.6 million people, countless businesses and numerous health centres and schools without electricity.

The government has an active rural electrification programme, although the focus on national grid extension and the all too limited resources leave many areas in Malawi with little hope of having electricity in the near future.

Decentralized energy programmes and business models that can achieve scale and sustainability are few and far between in sub-Saharan Africa – and Malawi is no exception.

Many installed mini-grid schemes in developing countries are plagued by failures and struggle to sustain operations.  Sound financial plans and real diligence are required to ensure that funds are available for the day that essential component breaks and needs replacing.  Skilled technical expertise to diagnose problems and obtain and install replacement parts is another critical element that is particularly challenging in remote rural areas.

MEGA – Mulanje Electricity Generating Authority – is tasked with stepping into this gap.  MEGA will bring together professional, financial and technical expertise that can ensure project sustainability and attract public and private investment.

MEGA’s business plan and financial model has been formulated with the support of DFID’s Business Innovation Facility.  Practical Action is leading on the micro-hydro mini-grid technology, and the local partner MuREA is facilitating community engagement.

MEGA will operate micro-hydro mini-grids, initially with one existing 75 kW scheme and plans to develop many more.  The initiative has received support from OFID that will allow it to install schemes in two more communities by 2014.  Mount Mulanje is the highest mountain in Malawi and the wettest in Southern Africa – an ideal place for micro-hydro technology.

The MEGA ambition is to bring electricity and development to poor communities in Mulanje.  We want to demonstrate that mini-grids are a viable option that offer a real opportunity to tackle energy poverty in Africa.

MEGA social enterprise is on the cusp of being registered as the first independent power producer in Malawi – watch this space!

4 Responses to “A MEGA initiative in Malawi”

  1. Kara Noble Says:

    Small hydro plants may be connected to conventional electrical distribution networks as a source of low-cost renewable energy. Alternatively, small hydro projects may be built in isolated areas that would be uneconomic to serve from a network, or in areas where there is no national electrical distribution network. Since small hydro projects usually have minimal reservoirs and civil construction work, they are seen as having a relatively low environmental impact compared to large hydro. This decreased environmental impact depends strongly on the balance between stream flow and power production. One tool that helps evaluate this issue is the Flow Duration Curve or FDC. The FDC is a Pareto curve of a stream’s daily flow rate vs. frequency. Reductions of diversion help the river’s ecosystem, but reduce the hydro system’s Return on Investment (ROI). The hydro system designer and site developer must strike a balance to maintain both the health of the stream and the economics.

  2. Randall T. Ramirez Says:

    Small hydro plants may be connected to conventional electrical distribution networks as a source of low-cost renewable energy. Alternatively, small hydro projects may be built in isolated areas that would be uneconomic to serve from a network, or in areas where there is no national electrical distribution network. Since small hydro projects usually have minimal reservoirs and civil construction work, they are seen as having a relatively low environmental impact compared to large hydro. This decreased environmental impact depends strongly on the balance between stream flow and power production. One tool that helps evaluate this issue is the Flow Duration Curve or FDC. The FDC is a Pareto curve of a stream’s daily flow rate vs. frequency. Reductions of diversion help the river’s ecosystem, but reduce the hydro system’s Return on Investment (ROI). The hydro system designer and site developer must strike a balance to maintain both the health of the stream and the economics.

  3. Matthew Faber Says:

    Any recommendations for turbine vendors and construction companies in South Pacific for building mini-hydro schemes? I have the completed the environment impacts studies and received approval and funding. Any thoughts around this would be appreciated.

  4. Neil Noble Says:

    I don’t have any specific suggestions but a good place to find suppliers of renewable energy systems is The Energy Source Guide http://energy.sourceguides.com/

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