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Developing energy-saving lights and solar lights to improve standard of living in Malawi’s cities and rural areas

“The lights are back on? Lets celebrate!” It’s become the common expression for us after moving to Malawi a couple of weeks ago.

There are times where my fellow jhr co-workers and I are left to sit in the dark for hours in our Lilongwe home. Moving to Malawi has conditioned us to adapt to the frequent power outages.

But just like us, Malawians living in the cities have become reliant on electricity. No electricity can mean no water, cooking, television, telephones, air conditioning, heating, security, sufficient hospital care and much more.

The electricity system in Malawi lacks sustainability. Power outages in Malawi happen as a common occurrence because the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) is the only source that provides the country with power, and struggles in doing so.

However, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Environment implemented the Energy Efficient Lighting Project (EELP). Their mission is to distribute 2-million energy saver light blubs to Escom residential consumers for free.

The project is aimed at reducing the evening peak demand for electricity and energy-saver light blubs will subsequently reduce the load off Escom.

Meanwhile, majority of the population do not even rely on Escom as an energy source. 80 per cent of Malawi’s population live in rural areas and most of that population depends on non-electric sources for lighting – kerosene being one.

Kerosene is used frequently in rural areas, is an expensive light source and can result in negative health implications. “You have to keep buying lamps, just like diesel or gas. You have to keep buying the fuel to keep lighting the house,” said John Keane of SolarAid.

SolarAid was established in 2006 as a charity to create international awareness and access to solar energy. “The mission is to eradicate the kerosene lamp from the continent by the end of this decade,” said Keane.

“If you breathe in kerosene every night, it harms your lungs and it’s dangerous set aflame.”

In January, Keane went to one of Malawi’s major cities, Muzuzu, to discover ways to capitalize the market for small solar lights in hopes to improve quality of life for Malawians.

“We are trying to do it through the private sector, a social enterprise called SunnyMoney,” said Keane.

“SunnyMoney is our microfranchise brand which uses a pioneering technique called microsolar to bring light to the poor whilst creating jobs and offering an alternative to costly and polluting kerosene lighting. Local entrepreneurs receive marketing and commerce training to enable effective distribution of portable solar-powered lighting systems and to ensure the lasting success of their new business. With SunnyMoney, everyone is a winner: the franchisees, their families, their communities and the environment.”solar-aid.org

Energy-saving lights and solar power infrastructures are still a work in progress; however the developments aim to provide a “brighter” future for Malawi.

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Speak is an online magazine that publishes and discusses rights media pieces. Rights Media is the process of writing, collecting, editing, producing and distributing media that creates societal dialogue on human rights issues. Speak magazine mainstreams human rights issues through, progressive, balanced and objective reporting into everyday news stories.

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