Solar company installs minigrids in Malawi

18th September 2020

Solar company installs minigrids in Malawi

FIRST OF MANY This minigrid will be the community’s first experience of wired household electricity and has potential for significant socioeconomic impact in the village

Following Covid-19-related delays, solar energy company SustainSolar successfully commissioned its first Sustain Compact containerised solar generation unit in Mthembanji, Malawi, says SustainSolar managing director Tobias Hobbach.

This solar generation unit was delivered as a minigrid under the Rural Energy Access through Social Enterprise and Decentralisation project. It was funded by the Scottish government in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and international development and emergency relief organisation United Purpose.

“Bringing stable and low carbon electricity provision to the previously unconnected village of Mthembanji, this minigrid will be the community’s first experience of wired household electricity and has potential for significant socioeconomic impact in the village.”

The 12 kW solar generation unit provides high-quality 220 V power to 60 customers for domestic and commercial use including lights, phone charging, television, fridges as well as other productive uses.

He adds this unit is a first of its kind in Malawi. The minigrid is cheaper, quicker to implement and potentially more financially sustainable than larger capacity minigrids currently deployed in the country.

This new method of rural electrification also allows for more electricity and a higher impact than the solar home systems offered on the market, says Hobbach.

Having designed the system architecture and a sustainable business model, Strathclyde and United Purpose worked with SustainSolar, Malawian electrical contractor BNG Electrical and smart meters provider Steamaco to complete the minigrid installation.

Packed in an insulated about 1.9 m2 shipping container, the system comprises high-quality inverters and lithium-ion batteries from solar energy company SMA and battery storage systems solution provider Tesvolt.

He explains that the SMA online portal allows for remote access to system performance and generation output, as well as alerting system managers to any problems to provide swift troubleshooting on the ground.

“Following the system’s installation, the site was visited by representatives from the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA), who were impressed with the quality of the installation and innovative technology used in the system.”

MERA approval has been granted for the sale of electricity, which has now begun, adds Hobbach.

“Minigrids are a clear pathway on the road to Malawi’s energy future.”

Additionally, he notes that the government of Malawi recognises the country’s energy challenge, in that less than 10% of the population is connected to the national grid, and has outlined support for minigrids to achieve its rural electrification targets in the Energy Policy (2018).

“This installation marks the first step in a new social enterprise strategy to provide sustainable energy access to one-million people over the next 10 years.”

He adds that it also contributes to Malawi’s attainment of Sustainable Development Goal seven of universal access to secure, reliable and affordable energy.

“In the meantime, the community in Mthembanji continues to enjoy the benefits of stable and reliable electricity provision. For most of the microgrid customers, this will be a life-changing moment, being able to switch on the lights for the first time.”

Meanwhile, Hobbach highlights that, since its launch in 2018, SustainSolar strives to respond to the needs of emerging markets with turnkey technology suited for various applications that require a decentralised, clean and dependable power supply.

He explains that its containerised, pre-installed solar systems are equipped with top-quality solar photovoltaics modules and electronics including lithium-ion batteries. These come in three standardised yet adjustable product configurations, from small to large, to suit a wide range of energy needs.

“With growing activities, a good presence on the African continent, an expanding network of partners and the implementation of new projects, SustainSolar is a preferred equipment supplier for minigrid, off-grid, hybrid fuel, as well as mobile and rapid deployment solar applications,” concludes Hobbach.