Ending rural energy poverty

Malawi needs to increase efforts towards expanding the use of alternative energy sources if its aspirations to universal access to clean and sustainable energy for all are to be realised by 2030.

Overall, just about 12 percent of the population is connected to the power grid with a meagre four percent of the rural households electrified.

However, nine out of 10 Malawians being exposed to unclean lighting and cooking energy sources, risking their health and safety.

Government must intensify its efforts such as the Malawi Rural Electrification Program (Marep) to connect many excluded people to the grid.

However, in times of increased innovations in energy and global climate emergency, extending the grid is not the only option. It is not the best either.

Connecting the rural communities to the national grid requires heavy government subsidies and does not always bring the projected benefits as most rural citizens cannot prioritise paying for electricity over food and health.

However, renewable energy technologies, including solar power, are a better option. They offer a less costly and flexible way of electrifying people in places that would be hard-to-reach when it comes to grid expansion.

Increased access to energy in the country can be established if it is based on needs.

Most rural communities do not need much energy. Let us give them the energy they require to meet their needs.

Lighting is their priority. With increased cell phone usage in the rural areas, electricity is further required for charging of the cell phones and related innovations.

Meaningful progress on rural electrification will be seen when solar energy and related products are given the necessary attention and preference.

This is why it is worrisome that to date, government is yet to gazette the removal of value-added tax on solar batteries, panels, inverters, bulbs, regulators, accumulators and lamps.

With this delay, there is little or no change on the prices of the products on the market and it is the consumer who is bearing the burden.

The removal of import duty on solar batteries, panels, inverters, bulbs, regulators, accumulators and lamps alone will not help much in ensuring that poor communities have clean energy for lighting and other direct needs.

It should be noted that listed products are still relatively costly and too costly for many rural Malawians.

Yes, it will contribute to increased uptake of solar energy and benefit the businesses and middle-income individuals that require energy for more than the lighting need.

The irony, however, is that most of these cited beneficiaries are already connected to the grid and solar energy is an option.

Solar-powered radios, bulbs, and televisions are the magic that is enabling rural people’s lives in ways we could not have imagined a few years ago.

These household solar products are helping poor communities to access affordable lighting in their homes, stay up to date through access to information, or simply have their children do their homework and study with no difficulties.

An extension of the removal of tax on these household solar products could have been more strategic and impactful.

The removal of tax on household solar products will reduce the cost to consumers thereby making energy accessible to the rural population in the country.

This will benefit more energy poor Malawians than the current arrangement.

Inadequate energy supply is one of the major problems confronting Malawi and limiting its social, economic and industrial development.

It should be emphasised that without reliable power, providing jobs, poverty and hunger, and achieving the other aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be challenging.

Solar energy and products are the much awaited panacea for the millions still living in darkness in Malawi as the country struggles to expand its urban-centred grid.

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