Save our Energy Kiosks in Malawi!
by International Resources and Recycling Institute
The Energy Kiosks are a rural electrification project run by a local Malawian NGO (Renew’N’Able Malawi) aiming to empower communities by increasing their livelihood, public health, education and socio-economic opportunities using clean energy.
In 2013, thanks to Scottish Government funding, solar-powered Energy Kiosks were established in two sites, which are not supplied by the national power grid in Southern Malawi. At each Kiosk, over 100 surrounding households were enabled to rent rechargeable battery packs of different capacities, as well as compatible basic accessories like mobile phones chargers, LED light bulbs, small TV screens, laptop chargers etc. Thus, households who did not have access to or could not afford their own off-grid energy devices were offered an opportunity to increase their life quality and economic opportunities.
Provided with these, people no longer depended on unsustainable, expensive and unhealthy lighting sources such as candles, paraffin lamps or one-way battery torches. Each Kiosk also benefited businesses, as complete stand-alone solar systems were also available to rent.
Both the Dzenje and Bvumbwe communities benefited significantly from the Energy Kiosks:
• Eye and lung problems with children and adults that were previously caused by inhaling paraffin lamp smoke were reduced;
• Families and local businesses extended their productivity to after sunset;
• Education level rose because students were enabled to study in the evenings;
• Households increased disposable income, as rental costs from the Kiosk were significantly lower than what they had previously been spending on one-way batteries, candles or paraffin.
Unfortunately, over the years the Kiosk equipment has severely degraded to the point where some of the battery boxes cannot be rented out anymore, either because they completely stopped functioning or because their performance is unreliable.
The situation has deteriorated more and more to reach a state, where the Kiosks cannot sustain themselves anymore and, if nothing is done, the ultimate consequence will be closing them down. This, of course, would be disastrous for the people of Dzenje and Bvumbwe who would need to return to a life without all the benefits the Kiosks brought to them.
To stop this from happening, in cooperation with a team of volunteer experts from University of Strathclyde, Renew’N’Able Malawi has developed a turnaround strategy based on the learning from the pilot phase that will enable the Kiosks to stand on their own feet again – and remain there this time!
The new strategy has three different components building up on each other:
(1) Replacement of the faulty parts of the stand-alone rental systems for businesses, which are supposed to provide the biggest income for the Kiosks
(2) Introduction of new equipment for households that will be more suitable and reliable for the Kiosks than the portable battery systems; new equipment will feature solar chargeable lamps that can be rented or purchased on a pay-as-you-go* basis.
(3) Introduction of further income generating activities to diversify income sources and secure the Kiosk in the future against bottlenecks. The Kiosks will keep charging phones, but also add a number of other commercial enterprises such as a barbershop, cold drink fridge, an “Internet café” with tablets for browsing and educational games, and a computer/printing service.
Help us save the Energy Kiosks from closing down so they can continue to lighten up Malawi!
* This means that if customers have rented a lamp over a certain period of time they eventually own it. They can then take the lamp home together with a small solar panel so that they don’t need to return to the Kiosk for recharging.
What is the social/environmental problem/issue that this project will address?
It will address energy poverty in rural Malawi, which impacts many different aspects of people’s lives. As there is no electricity, people depend on unhealthy, unsustainable and expensive sources of energy like paraffin, biomass, candles and one-way battery torches for cooking and lighting. Smoke from paraffin lamps and indoor cooking is known to cause serious health issues and studying or working after dark with just a dim light is very difficult.
For charging their phones, people in Malawi often cover very long distances costing them valuable time that could otherwise be spent in productive ways. It is often the children who are sent to do this, which is causing additional health risks and takes their time otherwise available for playing and studying.
Can you give us some statistics on this problem?
While the official national electrification rate in Malawi is at 10%, only 1 in 100 households in the rural areas (where 85% of our population live) has access to electricity.
It has been shown in studies that poor people, especially women and children are over-proportionally affected by the lack of sustainable energy. Poor households in Malawi spend up to 30% of the little income they have on basic energy sources, again and again. Most of this money can easily be saved for the things people are struggling with the most, like food, school fees and health costs, if they can be empowered to access long-lasting, quality clean energy devices at an affordable initial investment.
Communication is quickly gaining importance here just as everywhere else in the world. As of now, about 40% of Malawians own a mobile phone with that ratio continuously increasing. Mobile phones increase business activity, information, and are used as cheap radios, music players and torches. Since the rural population of Malawi makes up the great majority of the country, this means that it is not only city people who use mobile phones. In the rural areas people cover many kilometres either by bike or walking simply to charge their phones.
What is your solution?
The community-based Energy Kiosks bring electricity and energy solutions to places far off the national power grid in a self-managed way that is owned by the community through their local entrepreneurs or committees. They create awareness, access, and enhance affordability of clean and more sustainable energy solutions for families. The Kiosks use solar power to charge energy devices like lights that are rented out or sold on pay-as-you-go basis and offer other energy-dependent services, which cannot be accessed normally by the people. This way, everybody in the community can get access to healthy and clean energy while saving money. Apart from financial advantages, the kiosk also allows people to save time by providing a phone charging service so that they don’t have to cover several kilometres to reach a place with a grid connection.
How will you deliver this?
The two Kiosks started their operations in the beginning of 2013. They are run by a team of managers and overlooked by a committee of 12 members of the community holding meetings on a regular basis. They are supported by the expertise of the team of Renew’N’Able Malawi who pay regular visits to see how the Kiosks are doing and where help is needed. The turnaround strategy was developed in close cooperation with both the managers and the committee members, who know best what their community needs and how the Kiosk can deliver this.
All the money raised will go directly to Renew’N’Able Malawi who will deliver the above named goals with the communities.