Electricity for Christmas

January 2nd, 2014

Like quite a lot of British people today is my first day back at work after a long Christmas break.

Over the holiday period, there were serious storms, and thousands of people had their homes flooded, and many people went through days with no electricity.  Luckily I was not one of them, but having lived a number of years in rural Africa I know what life without electricity can be like.  Smoky kerosene lanterns giving poor light; nothing to charge your phone; expensive batteries for a radio; and a charcoal stove for cooking. It’s not easy.  In the UK it will have been cold too.  It can’t have been an easy time for anyone.

Late last year, I had the chance to visit a project we have been running in Malawi, in which we were helping to bring electricity to villages which are many kilometres away from the grid, and probably decades away from being connected to it.  A small electricity grid is powered by a small hydro-electric station, which takes water from a small river close to the village, and provides a low power connection to people’s houses.

The technology, which includes taking water from a perennial stream, and passing it through a small hydro-power station is well proven, in other parts of the world – simple, reliable, sustainable.

Battery charging helps to delivery energy where it  is most needed

Battery charging helps to delivery energy where it is most needed

When I was there, I was reminded how transformational electricity can be, by a poem that a young student had written and recited at a small celebration to mark the opening of the scheme.  He talked about the immediate things we might all think of – lighting to do homework, power for phones, radio, TV, even a computer for the school.  However, it was interesting how the new electricity grid meant he could feel proud of the village, and how government teachers & doctors would be happy to be posted there, and not seek a transfer back to the town at the first opportunity.  “We’re now a place with a future”, he said.

Being based on a sustainable source, this system should run for many years to come, and of course emits no carbon dioxide either.  There is plenty of potential for similar small hydro-electric plants in other parts of Malawi, so we are keen to share our story, and see the approach replicated by others.

This is perhaps a long way from power cuts in the UK, except that it’s interesting to reflect on how much a difference that an electricity connection can make.

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