Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Neno District Project Visit

Earlier this week Mavuto (Southern Region Development Officer) jolted and bumped his 4x4 along the hilly and dusty road to Neno District with me in the passenger seat. It was going to be the first time that Mavuto had visited Chididi Community Based Organisation (CBO) since the installation of a series of Solar Photovoltaic systems in the community funded through the CEDP.

Long and winding road to Neno!
The installations included 4 solar PV systems in school teacher's houses, solar PV in 1 school block and head teacher's office and finally 1 solar PV installation in the office of the CBO. It was so exciting to be able to see one of the projects that I have been reading about on paper for so long!

Installations on 2 of the 4 teacher's houses in Neno

Installation on the Head teacher's office
All of the systems have only been installed for a matter of weeks so it is quite early to be discussing impacts, however, when I asked the head teacher, Maxwell, what difference it had made to him having a light in his office, he said that it had made a huge impact on him being able to work late into the night with good lighting.
Moses Gadama from the Energy Committee also said that “we are in the light, we no longer have to travel long distances to charge phones or to get our hair cut, this can now be done in our community thanks to the electricity from the solar, these new business opportunities are exciting.”

Chididi CBO well lit by the solar PV installation in the school block

The head teacher, Maxwell, with his wife in their newly lit home. 

What I found particularly interesting during this visit was the attitude of the community. They were obviously all very interested to hear what I had to say in terms of future "donations" to the community. Whilst Mavuto has repeatedly made it clear to the community that these systems will not be supported by further donations but instead by revenue generating ideas that Mavuto has helped them to establish, since I was visiting the UK the community thought they had better double check "straight from the horses mouth" on any further funding!

Mavuto further reinforced that no further funding was available at this time and that the community should instead look to the revenue generating ideas that Mavuto is supporting them to establish. In this community these ideas include mobile phone charging and a barber shop, both of which will utilise electricity from the newly installed solar PV systems. Profits from these enterprises will go into a maintenance fund that is managed by the community Energy Committee to fund the ongoing costs of all of the systems in the community. It is hoped that any additional funds can be used to set up further revenue generating activities in the community - we're all very excited to see how this will develop!

Travelling back to Blantyre behind a lorry laden with charcoal to sell in Blantyre. Is it not the local use of firewood that is causing the huge deforestation in Neno District, but the huge demand for charcoal from towns that causes so many of the Neno trees to be cut down.

On closer inspection, a LOT of charcoal being transported to Blantyre. The need for fuel efficient stoves in urban areas is therefore just as big a priority as it is in the rural areas. 

Friday, 20 June 2014

Malawi's First Community Energy Conference a Huge Success!

I write this post the day after Malawi's first ever Community Energy Conference, it was an incredible day and I know that the pictures and paragraphs below will not capture the buzz that was generated at this event!
The conference was held to provide a platform to officially launch Community Energy Malawi, launch the Community Renewable Energy Toolkit for Malawi but finally (and possibly most importantly), to bring together representatives from the 12 Community Based Organisations (CBOs) that have been involved in the Community Energy Development Programme and other key stakeholders for the first energy conference of its kind in Malawi.

Packed conference venue!

It was an action packed day with a full programme which can be accessed here. Community Energy Malawi was honoured to be hosting a number of high profile speakers and guests including the Key Note Speaker, Director of Administration for the Ministry of Energy, Mr Maxwell Tsitsi; Mr Raphael Kamoto, the CEO of Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority; the Deputy Director of Energy Affairs; Community Energy Scotland staff Nicholas Gubbins (CEO) as well as Community Energy Board Members Kelvin Tembo, Yamungu Botha and Dr Arnold Juma.

The top table! (L-R) Edgar Bayani, National Coordinator; Kelvin Tembo, Community Energy Malawi Board Member; Deputy Director of Energy Affairs, Joseph Kalowekamo; Maxwell Tsitsi and Nicholas Gubbins

It was noted by many of the speakers and attendees that all of the honoured guests were taking lots of notes and they were all still present when the closing remarks of the conference were being delivered. It is testament to the quality of the presentations and discussion that the attention of so many of the "movers and shakers" in the energy industry was maintained for the whole day!

This conference was also about giving community groups the opportunity to present their projects, share their experiences and ask questions directly to senior figures in the sector. This is the first time that community members in Malawi have had such a platform to do this and several members of the community took this opportunity to ask thought provoking questions to the speakers.

Lloyd Chiwaya, a community member from Balaka who was presenting his experiences of community energy projects installed by Concern Universal.

Mr Hevvens Theu from Fwasani CBO giving a fantastic summary of the projects involved under the CEDP.

Central Region Development Officer - Blessings Mbendera said "It was so great to see the intra-community group networking, group members from Balaka (in the Central region) speaking with groups members from Chitipa (in the Northern region), it was a very special day". And as Sithembile, Northern Region Development Officer noted, "it is so often the case in Malawi that we hold discussions about the community in their absence, it is a great thing that the community is here today with us to be involved in the discussions".

Sithembile, Development Officer for the Northern Region and our Director of Ceremonies

And of course there was the unveiling of Community Energy Malawi (CEM) by our National Coordinator, Edgar Bayani, the Board Chair for CEM, Kelvin Bayani and our guest of honour, Maxwell Tsitsi. There was much applause and many of the community groups and assembled stakeholders have already pledged their wish to become members of CEM and contribute what they can to make the organisation a success.

The official unveiling and launch of Community Energy Malawi!

The launch of the toolkit was also a great success with the majority of the published material being distributed to the community groups and key stakeholders by the end of the conference. The material will all be uploaded to the Community Energy Malawi website and a note will be put on this blog when this process is complete.

Community members from Dowa District being interviewed by the national press. Watch this space for how CEM hits the headlines!

Perhaps one of the most thought provoking presentations was given by Dr Arnold Juma, a lecturer at Mzuni University in Mzuzu, in the Northern Region. Dr Juma carried out a PhD into what makes a Solar PV system sustainable in rural Malawi. His findings were very interesting with the key points being that it is possible for rural PV systems to be sustainable but that the systems should be decentralised systems and that the strategy for installation should be based on "selling" as opposed to "donating" the technologies on part of the project sponsors and "buying" as opposed to "receiving" on the part of the beneficiaries.

All of the presentations from the conference will be uploaded to the Community Energy Malawi website in the next few weeks.

Packed Conference Venue!

Blessings looking at some of the exhibitors at the conference

And finally the day was rounded off with traditional dances from the Gule Wamkulu - traditional dancers dressed in amazing costumes who entertained the attendees on the lawns outside the conference venue. As Yamungu Botha, a member of the CEM board commented, the inclusion of the communities at every stage of this conference 'really added value to the word "Community" in Community Energy Malawi', with such a positive unveiling, we are all really excited to see where this momentum will lead.

Example of the Gule Wamkulu

Monday, 16 June 2014

CEDP Team Meeting at Salima

I write this blog post having just got back from a CEDP team meeting at Salima, a town on the shores of the beautiful Lake Malawi. Since the CEDP team are spread out over the whole of Malawi it was the first time since the end of March that the whole team has got together, and what a fantastic setting for a team meeting!

CEDP Team striking a pose at Lake Malawi (L-R) Blessings, Mavuto, Sithembile and Edgar
The last few months have seen an incredible amount of effort and activity from the DOs and Edgar. The DOs have been helping groups to install projects now that funding has been approved and Edgar has been very busy organising Malawi's first Community Energy Conference as well as setting up Community Energy Malawi (CEM), the organisation that will take on the activities of the CEDP and enable communities in Malawi to create sustainable renewable energy solutions to meet their energy needs. 
This team meeting was focussed on clarifying budgets and activities for this year as well as starting to think about potential future partnerships and collaborations for Community Energy Malawi and, of course, readying everybody for this weeks' conference!

Women carrying firewood home on the shores of Lake Malawi. Each of these large bundles will only last a household 3 days at most.
Following the team meeting Community Energy Scotland CEO, Nicholas Gubbins, travelled to the North of Malawi with Sithembile to see some project installations there. Sarah and Edgar are busy in Lilongwe preparing for the conference which will take place this Thursday, the 19th June. 

Sun setting at Salima, Malawi
Looking forward to being able to put up the next post which will include lots of photos and summaries of key discussions held at the conference!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Community Energy Scotland Staff Head to Malawi Ahead of Conference

Today, Sarah Jones, International Development Officer for Community Energy Scotland, left Scotland for Malawi ahead of Malawi's first Community Energy Conference set to be held in Lilongwe next week on the 19th June in Lilongwe. Chief Executive of Community Energy Scotland, Nicholas Gubbins, will also be travelling out to Malawi later this week to attend the conference and visit some of the projects that have been funded and installed under the Community Energy Development Programme. Sarah and Nicholas will be taking photos and posting articles throughout their trips to Malawi so watch this space for updates!

Sarah Jones - excited about next weeks' conference!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Fourth CEDP Newsletter Published!

The 4th CEDP newsletter has been published covering activities from February 2014 - April 2014! To view the newsletter, visit the Community Energy Malawi website by clicking here.