Malawi’s solar energy mine shows promise as a way to electrify rural Africa

A Malawi rural solar energy mine operates maize mills, a sunflower oil plant and will help a welder in a nearby village expand its business, showing that centralized grid systems are not Africa’s only path to low-carbon electricity.

Development experts say that village-level solar energy is a more promising way to bring electricity to the farthest reaches of Africa than conventional grids, which often do not reach them, tend to prioritize more privileged neighborhoods and are often driven by polluting fossil fuel production.

“I see myself thriving on this power project,” welder Bartholomew Soko told Reuters TV in the village of Ndawambe. He plans to start making door frames, television stands and drying racks for platesas well as the bikes he already repairs.

“Extending electricity to other rural areas would help people with disabilities to be self-sufficient,” Soko, who was injured in a car accident and uses a wheelchair, added.

In Malawi, more than three quarters of the country’s around 20 million people do not have access to electricity – a higher proportion than the continental average of around half.

The cost of solar energy has fallen by more than three quarters globally over the past decade.

The Sitolo project connects more than 700 people across three villages, and local farmers no longer have to travel long distances to have their corn ground or sunflower seeds pressed.

Brenda Limbikani, a sunflower farmer, said the locals never used to grow sunflowers. “But with this oil press machine, more people have planted the crop,” she said. “This year, the number of farmers growing sunflowers is more than ever.”

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