In 2019 we launched ‘Project Switch’ together with the community in Mandevu village in Kasungu, Malawi.
Mandevu, like so many other villages across Malawi, has no access to electricity. Each night, just after 6pm, darkness descends on the village, cutting days short.
Our research has revealed that the most common forms of lighting in the village are candles and battery powered lights. One in five homes also use home-made stick torches, with others burning dry grass or wood. Stick torches are home-made devices, which make use of old batteries which have insufficient power left in them to run other appliances, such as radios. Needless to say, stick torches do not provide much light.
Many households in the village reported having suffered accidents and burns as a result of the daily use of candles. We were also told that ’People ration the amount of light they use to save energy for another day’ and that ‘it is difficult to be satisfied with this situation.‘ This is also true for radios, with people limiting the time they listen to the radio to save battery power.
Meanwhile, many of the batteries, which are typically zinc carbon, end up on the ground, creating a risk of soil and water pollution. Just a short walk around the village revealed many batteries, in various stages of decay, lying on, or embedded within, the ground.
Project Switch is all about working to change this situation. Mandevu village now has a solar charging station – a building with its own solar system which is enabling a solar agent to offer customers access to different energy options. These include:
- The rental of solar lights on a daily basis for a few pennies
- Providing ‘Rent to own’ offerings of multiple lighting and phone charging systems
- Offering solar lights and systems for outright purchase
Lights and switches have also been installed in houses across the village, making it possible for people to flick a switch in their homes for the first time. People can recharge their batteries using the solar power at the charging station. We have also installed stand alone pico-solar panels on a selection of households who are ‘renting to own.’
By working closely with the community, we aim to improve our understanding of what it takes for everyone to be able to enjoy access to solar lighting and power, in place of the need to buy candles and disposable torch batteries. We then hope to go beyond basic power and lighting, towards enabling access to energy for productive use.