Malawi, like many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, is exposed to very limited supply chains, making infrastructure development a slow growth area. This often leads to projects running late and over budget or utilising components that are simply at hand rather than what is specifically required in the project design. Poor roads and infrastructure in these remote locations compound the supply chain issues. In addition, the USAID has acknowledged that with a high population density, Malawi has one of the lowest per capita GDPs in the world. The country has the capacity to generate 439 megawatts (MW) through Malawi’s heavy reliance on large hydro; however, this is often constrained by drought and low water levels. The low electrification rate creates a challenging environment for communities to grow and develop due to often unsanitary conditions, crime, poor healthcare facilities and education.
A Community Trust run by the Peachtree Church Atlanta in Georgia, USA, saw a need to support a larger school expansion project. Due to the remoteness of the region and the school, some children were walking many miles every day to attend school.
This can be dangerous, and a contributor to inconsistent attendance. The project added a girls’ dormitory to the school as a solution aimed at increasing access to education by makingclass attendance safer and easier for young women. SustainSolar was awarded the contract to install and commission the clean powersystem. SustainSolar teamed up with BNG Services, their local partner in Malawi, and Peachtree’s preferred contractor. Through BNG’s apprenticeship and intern programme, many of Peachtree’s technical students were able to gain hands-on experience with the installation of the modular compact system.
The containerised solar system has an initial solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity of 6 kWp and 10 kWh of lithium-ion battery storage, with future expansion capability built into the system design allowing the power supply to grow with demand. The AC electricity is distributed across the entire campus consisting of classrooms, teachers’ houses, admin building and the newly built dorm. This has ultimately led to the formation of Malawi’s first mini-grid using market leading technology from Tesvolt batteries and SMA inverters, both German manufacturers.
This design includes everything required to install and commission the system, including tools, ladders, nuts/bolts, even consumables like rags.
The system took four weeks to build, test and pack, and four weeks to reach the school, transported by truck from Cape Town across Zimbabwe and Mozambique to Northern Malawi. Within three days ofthe team’s arrival it was producing electricity, thanks to its pre-configuration and turn-key design.
The project faced some natural challenges and difficult terrain such as poor road conditions, uneven ground, and inaccessibility by crane. The modular unit fits into a 20-foot shipping container, which can be delivered with a smaller truck with a truck loader. Additionally, its rapiddeployment mounting structure is specially designed to e adjustable for uneven ground levels, requires no foundation, and is built to withstand the wind pattern of the region. One of the best features is it took only aday to assemble without the use of special or motorised tools.
The primary objective of this project was to bring power to a school that previously had none. An important impact that this project has is regarding the young ladies who previously had to walk many miles through the mountains to attend school every day. The walk was difficult, and even dangerous at times. Now these girls have a safe and secure dormitory in which to stay during the week, meaning better access to a good education.
A secondary objective, albeit a very important one, was to install a toptier, high-quality solar system in a region where systems previously installed were done so with cheap materials, only lasting a few years.
The system is currently supplying electricity to the school without the need for any intervention since its final customer acceptance on Saturday, August 3rd, 2019. The school and dormitory have only been discharging the batteries to 50%, leading to the addition of new computers and printers for the students.
With innovative and intelligent packaging of the system, quality systems like this one can be replicated throughout the developing world, even in the very remotest areas with undeveloped supply chains, in a very short amount of time.