Two years ago, a Standard Eight class at Bvumbwe Primary School was echoed with coughs from the red-eyed pupils who had endured smoke from the kerosene lamp as they studied at home the previous night. Smoke is well known for causing indoor pollution which leads to respiratory tract health ailments.
As much as the coughing is irritating to James Kathebwe, a dedicated teacher at the school, his failure to prepare for the class is even more frustrating—but there is not much he can do as he has to still buy the kerosene to elongate his working hours.
Today, the same class is quiet, except for snapping fingers beckoning Kathebwe’s attention to allow them give an answer. Kathebwe is overwhelmed with the response that he is now getting from his students. He attributes his success to Renew ’N’ Able Malawi (Renama), a non-governmental institution which has built a power kiosk from where he rent batteries to power light bulbs he uses when studying.
Several organisations have made efforts to come up with sustainable renewable energy solutions and preserve the environment at the same time. Many organisations are coming up with solutions such as solar power and windmills. However, despite the efforts, most solutions seem to work only for a short time. Most of the renewable energy projects are unsustainable while others do not necessarily address the needs of the community.
Renama realised the need to identify suitable and sustainable energy generation solutions and coordinate renewable energy players in Malawi.
Country director for Renama, Martina Kunert, said in an interview that the organisation has developed a database of renewable energy projects and institutions.
“We have noticed a number of renewable energy projects in the country, but some of them are not sustainable in case of replacement of equipment, and also some of them do not address all the needs of the beneficiaries. For example, you might have a solar powered battery at a vaccine centre but people also want to charge their batteries and light at their homes,” said Kunert.
To find sustainable domestic energy solutions to rural areas, Renama has embarked on a project termed “Energy Kiosk” which has just passed its first pilot phase. With partners such as Eqnon, International Recycle Institute, Concern Universal and Lead, the project is funded by the Scottish Government.
Two pilot electricity rental stations have been installed at Dzenje in Phalombe and at Bvumbwe in Thyolo, and they have been open since January. Under this project, solar-powered kiosks have been installed close to primary schools where specially designed deep-cycle battery packs and basic energy accessories such as light bulbs, phone chargers and even small low-power television screens can be rented and recharged by the surrounding 150 households at a small fee using mobile money.
To ensure sustainability of the project, Renama, trained kiosk managers on repairing and replacement of components of equipment. The kiosks are run by village committees elected by the target communities to ensure a sense of ownership in the recipient communities. A minimum fee for the renting out of batteries and accessories is used for the daily running of the kiosks, paying of the kiosk managers and replacement of broken equipment.
Embezzlement, theft and mismanagement of funds are some of the main ways in which most community projects stall. To overcome this challenge, Renama introduced mobile money in all payments at the Kiosks so as to minimise any handling of cash.
Bvumbwe seems to be near the Escom power grid with only one kilometre away from Bvumbwe trading centre, unlike Dzenje which is almost eight kilometres from Migowi, the nearest point where there is Escom power grid. But Renama deliberately chose the two sites because they are contrasts.
“It is one way to learn what we want to learn from these two sites and to do so, we have to choose two contrasting sites,” said Kunert.
Already, the facilities seem to be benefiting people from the target communities—people like Kathebwe. Business people are also benefiting from the facility as the kiosks are able to lease out solar panels that can power fridges and other high power equipments.