Much as the importance of electricity cannot be overemphasized, several reports including USAID’s March 2018, Malawi Power Africa Fact Sheet, about 3.2 million households in the country do not have access to clean energy. In rural areas only 5% of the population has access to electricity.
Against this background, government has stepped up efforts to increase electricity generation and distribution. This include large scale projects such as upgrading of existing hydro power stations, Kam'mwamba Coal-Fired Power Plant Project, development of various pieces of infrastructure in energy sector such as Phombeya and Nkhoma sub-stations.
Further to this, government through the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) is advocating for installation of Electricity Mini-Grids which are expected to scale up electricity distribution in hard to reach places.
In Bondo Village the impact of Electricity Mini-Grids has led to flourishing of micro-economic activities. One can visibly observe that retail stores, barber shops and welding businesses are on the rise. Educationally, students are also having more study hours as their school is now electrified.
I traced a student who exceedingly performed well at Bondo Community Day Secondary School during the 2016 Malawi School Certificate of Education Examinations, one Masautso Natchengwa, currently studying an undergraduate course in Business Administration at University of Malawi The Polytechnic in Blantyre. He attests to the fact that installation of the electricity mini-grid in his village had a huge bearing on his academic success.
Masautso Natchengwa, Polytechnic Student, Bondo CDSS Alumnus
“I count myself lucky to make it to the University, it’s a dream come true. I know other students in the past couldn’t make it here due to challenges beyond their capacity one of which was lack of electricity. They couldn’t keep up late studying. It’s very strenuous to study using paraffin lit lamps or candles. This development, surely, will continue changing my village educationally,” said Natchengwa.
Arnold Kadziponye is Projects Manager for Mulanje Energy Generation Agency MEGA. He said the Bondo Electricity Mini-Grid came into existence after noting high levels of environmental degradation on Mulanje Mountain which was being fuelled by high demand for bio-mass energy.
“We needed an alternative; a quick solution to the energy challenge which in a way was putting a big toll on Mulanje Mountain and the levels of degradation was alarming. Engineers were pulled together and Mulanje Electricity Generation Agency (MEGA) was created to give people of Bondo village and surrounding villages clean energy,” said Kadziponye.
In his remarks, Power Distribution Manager for MEGA, Lusungu Kamwendo said currently Bondo Mini Grid is generating 60 Kilowatt which is supplied to Bondo Village and other six surrounding villages.
He said, “Previously people in Bondo village had to rely on candles for lighting up their houses when evening falls. With the generation of electricity from Bondo 1 Mini-Grid, we notice great change. Families are now developing as they are capable of starting small scale businesses that largely are dependent on electricity. For instance you see this building was just once a residential property but now there’s a thriving retail business.”
Retail shops in Bondo Village now can diversify to fresh products due to
availability of electricity
MEGA has intensified construction projects for another power house in the area. The company says it has a vision of supplying electricity to majority of villages in Mulanje powered by the Mini-Grids. Samuel Mambo, Technical Projects Supervisor for MEGA applauded government for recognizing the role of Mini-Grids in electricty generation.
“You cannot underestimate contribution of electricity Mini-Grids in energy sector. After finalising construction for Bondo three power house we are sure that most households in Mulanje will have electricity and lives will surely change,” said the seemingly optimistic Mambo.
The Electricity Mini-Grid in Bondo village speaks volumes of alternative solutions to conservation of indigenous trees on Mulanje Mountain. Bondo village now has a new lease of life and has seen establishment of numerous income generation activities that has deterred many from ravaging the mountain in search of bio-mass energy and other opportunities.
With electricity connected to the main educational institution in the village, Bondo CDSS, perhaps in the following years, more students will follow the footsteps of Masautso Natchengwa by qualifying to various tertiary institutions courtesy of electricity mini-grid.