On Wednesday I travelled from Blantyre, Malawi’s second city, down to Mulanje in the south-east of Malawi with a group of representatives from Scottish Government. As we drove further south the landscape began to change from the relatively arid, red landscape I’d seen so far in Malawi. Dramatic granite peaks started to appear and vegetation became much more lush and abundant. We were heading down to Mulanje to see an operational hydro scheme that has been developed by MuREA – Mulanje Renewable Energy Agency in conjunction with Practical Action. With MuREA being one of the Strategic Energy Partners (SEPs) of the MREAP programme it was a great opportunity not only to see the hydro scheme but also to meet people who are on the ground, developing community led renewable projects in Malawi and see what issues they face (see first blog if acronyms are becoming overwhelming!).
As we left the main road in Mulanje, we wound up a dirt track between the tea plantations at the base of the Mulanje mountains to reach the hydro scheme at Bondo village. As we bounced our way over boulders and skirted large pot holes I couldn’t help but be incredibly impressed at how the civil engineering kit managed to get up the track. Later discussions revealed that materials had been taken up the track by hand and that very little machinery had been used in the construction of the scheme. Just goes to show that where there’s a will there’s a way!
Emmanuel from Practical Action with children from Bondo. Note the newly installed electricity poles!
On arrival at the site we were met by Emmanuel, a Technician with Practical Action who has been working with MuREA on the hydro project for a number of years. The first idea for the hydro project came about in 2007 with work starting in earnest 2/3 years ago. The project was finally operational on the 9th July and now provides electricity to the health centre and some 14 households in the community of Bondo, Mulanje.
The village chief, Mr Salupi (left) and his friend (right) at the Bondo community hydro project
Children at Bondo at the canal which transports water to the hydro scheme intake
Penstock pipe from the canal down to the turbine
The 88kW scheme utilises a Pelton turbine manufactured in Zimbabwe which uses a canal system to transport water some 600m from the river to an appropriate intake point. The head of the scheme is in the region of 150m and the system is designed to take flows in the region of 1000 litres/second. Householders which are connected up to the scheme need to pay between 7,000 – 15,000 kwatcha (between £15 - £30) to install the necessary wiring in their homes. A pre paid meter will then be installed which householders will top up with credit to pay for the electricity.
Even though the hydro scheme has only been generating electricity for a few weeks, the significance of this project and how excited the community are is already tangible.
Now that the health centre is connected up to the hydro scheme, vaccines can be stored there reliably giving increased access to essential medications for this remote rural community. The provision of electric lighting also means that health workers and patients no longer have to rely on candles which are often blown out during important procedures in inclement weather.
Householders are utilising the provision of electricity to launch new business opportunities. One householder has already built a screening room onto the side of this house where he will connect up a projector and sound system to provide a community big screen – just in time for the world cup!
Bondo children in front of the grass and canvas house extension which will support the big screen powered by the hydro.
Nicholas Dzadza from Practical Action, Zimbabwe showing where the big screen will be.
Other enterprising householders that have connected to the hydro scheme have purchased maize mills to process locally grown maize and turn a profit from the milled product.
What was apparent whilst talking to members of the community is how excited everybody was about the introduction of reliable electricity to the area and that there are now significantly greater opportunities for development within these communities. This scheme hasn’t been without it’s hiccups but what is heartening from this project is that barriers have been overcome and that learning from this project can be transferred to other projects which are earlier in the development process in other areas of Malawi. An incredible achievement for all those involved.