A LOCAL village in Malawi has electricity "for the first time", thanks to a Scottish government-funded microgrid project.
A 20-foot receptacle was delivered to the village of Mthembanji in 2020, containing the components of a 12-kilowatt solar-powered microgrid which provides 60 homes and small businesses with a supply of electricity.
It was one of the many areas not connected to Malawi’s national grid, according to the University of Strathclyde, which meant the locals’ only option was to depend on torchlights.
Now, thanks to the project, which was co-ordinated by the university in partnership with United Purpose, discounted electricity is offered to the local Ntandamula Primary School.
This has enabled pupils at the school to study at home during the night. It has also allowed evening classes to be held, enabling children to catch up on the education they missed during Covid-19.
Describing the lights being switched on as "life-changing", mother-of-five Matilda Chagontha said before the microgrid, they only had one torch which was shared between the kitchen and her children for when they studied.
She said: “It was really hard for the children to do well at school. Sometimes it was a decision to buy batteries for the torch or food for the children. But my life changed when the electricity arrived because it’s used for lighting in the house.
“My children can now study and the outside bulb protects us from thieves. And the children are doing so well at school because they are able to study. “
Since the installation, the school has introduced iPads and there has been an increase of more than fivefold in local primary pupils progressing to high school, rising from seven out of 44, to 38 out of 47 learners in 2020.
Twenty new businesses have also sprung up as a result of electricity provision, including video shows, grocery shops with fridges, computer cafés, cold soft drinks, salons and barbershops.
Data collected on the social impact of the project further show positive changes to community livelihoods and increased security in the village.
According to the surveys conducted, the microgrid is also having positive gender impacts, with women reporting positive impacts on the amount of free time, independence and decision-making, respect within the community and household, and security in the home.
Access to news and health information has also improved.
The microgrid is part of the Rural Energy Access through Decentralisation and Social Enterprise (EASE) project, which focuses on energy poverty in marginalised rural communities in two Malawian townships.
Aran Eales, a researcher at the University, said: “Around 16 million people don’t have access to electricity in Malawi, and solar microgrids like those installed through EASE offer life changing impact through reliable power to communities living in energy poverty.
“The technology is low carbon, climate resilient and scalable, and the research we do ensures it is deployed in a way that’s affordable for communities through a sustainable business model that ensures the lights are kept on.
“We’re trying to demonstrate the art of the possible.”
Scottish Government International Development Minister Neil Gray (above) said he is delighted that the solar microgrid project in the Malawian village of Mthembanji is a success.
He added: “Having access to electricity has been transformative for the small businesses in the village and especially the children who are progressing much faster through the education system now they have light to study in the evenings.”