- 18th September 2023
- Community Energy Systems in Malawi
By Dr. Harshit Vallecha (Loughborough University).
This is the second blog in the three blog series of Community Energy Systems in Malawi. The first blog can be found here.
After visiting the intended sites in central region, our team proceeded towards Southern Malawi and visited Bondo microhydro project. It is located in Mulanje district, 390 kms away from capital which is home to Mount Mulanje and Sapitwa peak, the highest peak in Malawi. Bondo micro-hydro power project is one among the three micro-hydro projects installed by MEGA (Mulanje Electricity Generation Agency). MEGA is a social enterprise which aims to provide reliable and affordable power supply through environmentally friendly solutions. It is owned by Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT), an environmental endowment trust supporting biodiversity and conservation around Mount Mulanje. MMCT has installed three micro-hydro projects namely, Bondo 1, Bondo 2, and Bondo 3 in the region. MEGA is responsible for maintenance and operation of these projects. The mini-grid infrastructure for these projects has been funded by international development agencies. However, maintenance and operation are managed through revenue collected from electricity tariffs charged to consumers. There are three power houses built for each of the three (Bondo 1, Bondo 2, and Bondo 3) projects but three of them are injecting power to a single mini grid, i.e., three of the generators are interconnected. Firstly, Bondo 1 was built and when demand for power increased with a greater number of customers, subsequently Bondo 2 and Bondo 3 were commissioned. Three of the power houses are located at different elevations with respect to each other. Interestingly, water coming out at outlet from Bondo 1 is the intake for Bondo 3.
We visited the powerhouse of Bondo 3 which is recently built and more accessible than other two powerhouses. It was commissioned in 2019 with a capacity of 160 kW, highest as compared to Bondo 1 (80 kW) and Bondo 2 (88 kW). However, they were operating Bondo 3 at 120 kW by keeping some reserve capacity. The combined operating capacity of three powerhouses is around 268 kW (after keeping some reserve capacity). All of the three powerhouses are synchronized to serve around 2000 households connected to the mini grid. In addition, the mini grid is providing electricity to 12 maize mills, 13 schools, 8 churches, one health centre, and several small shops and businesses. It was interesting to see some of the consumers using electric cooking devices (mostly hot plates and kettles) from electricity available through mini grid. We came across a local grocery store owner who has built a Radio Station by his own through scrap material and provides free radio transmission to the houses in range.
After visiting Mulanje, we went to Chikwawa (110 kms from Mulanje) to visit Oleole, a distant village located far in interior on a rough terrain. It took us two hours to reach the village from main highway due to poor roads. There, we visited a community solar PV power plant established in 2018. It is a 25 kW solar PV generation system where 15 kW is for household energy use while 10 kW is dedicated for irrigation pumps. The system currently supplies electricity to 17 households and six businesses. In addition, there are around 35 subscribers for irrigation system. The project was installed through funding received from European Union and is presently managed by the Village Energy Committee. The project encountered some major operational challenges in last few years when their prepaid metering system fails. It is still facing financial issues due to lack of revenue and minimum number of customers to operate the system sustainably.
Featured image, top: Bondo Community Micro Hydro Power Scheme (image credit: H. Vallecha).