TEA-LP attends the CESET Annual Workshop in Malawi

Guy Cunliffe, 19 April 2022

In the week of 28 March – 1 April 2022, I had the pleasure and privilege of joining the Community Energy Systems and Sustainable Energy Transitions in Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique (CESET) team at their annual workshop, hosted by Mzuzu University in Mzuzu, the capital of the Northern Region of Malawi.

CESET is a three-year research programme exploring how communities can support just energy transitions in East Africa, focusing on diversity both of models of community energy and of the communities engaging in renewable energy projects. The CESET team met fully in-person for the first time at the Mzuzu workshop, having launched the project in 2020 at the height of worldwide Covid-induced travel restrictions.

Attendants on Day 1 at the CESET Workshop at the Sunbird Hotel, Mzuzu

This was also TEA-LP’s first opportunity to engage with the CESET team in-person, after more than a year of virtual interactions.

One of the pillars of the CESET project is the establishment of the Regional Energy Learning Alliance, which has the aim of bringing together a network of researchers, policymakers, communities, and practitioners, in order to advance community energy systems and institutions in a collaborative and inclusive manner. This has considerable synergy with the TEA-LP, for example through supporting clean energy access through local skills development in Africa, and through fostering and leveraging the network of universities, academics and students that TEA-LP has established. Going forward, as we continue to scale up, we hope to have closer engagement and collaboration with CESET, and will continue to share knowledge and ideas to this end.

Prof Vanesa Broto presenting on Day 1 of the workshop

The workshop itself, led by Professor Vanesa Castán Broto and Dr Vicky Simpson of the University of Sheffield and hosted by, among others, Dr Collen Zalengera, Maxon Chitawo and Christopher Bill Hara of Mzuzu University, was a huge success, and incredibly inspiring for those who attended (not least yours truly!).

Particular highlights were, firstly, hearing from leading actors in Malawi’s growing renewable mini-grid sector. This included a presentation from Mr. Edgar Bayani (pictured below), of Community Energy Malawi, who has developed a number of solar mini-grid projects in the Southern Region of Malawi – for example, an 80 kW project in the Sitolo Village (near the Mozambican border).

Mr. Edgar Bayani presenting at the CESET workshop

We also heard from Mr. Arnold Kadzipanye, Projects Co-ordinator for the Mulange Electricity Generation Agency (MEGA). They have developed, and are currently operating, 220 kW mini-hydro capacity, running off the Mulanje Mountain (in south-eastern Malawi), which supplies 1600 connections for the local community (with estimated further potential of up to 6.5 MW).

Hearing first-hand from these and other actors in Malawi’s nascent – but growing – distributed renewable energy sector provided unique insights into some of the innovations and solutions local developers are implementing to close Malawi’s electrification gap.

Manchewe Falls, Livingstonia, Malawi

We also had the privilege of visiting the Chipopoma Hydro Mini-grid project – a 53 kW mini-grid developed by John Sailesi and funded by the UNDP, located at the Manchewe Falls and supplying the Livingstonia community in Northern Malawi. The site visit was incredibly special: it comprised an hour-long hike through the hills surrounding the Manchewe Falls – complete with stunning views that overlooked Lake Malawi – to see the hydro powerhouse. The exertion required to reach the site (and then walk back) made it even more incredible and inspiring to learn that Mr Sailesi built the plant almost-literally single-handedly.

John Sailesi, alongside the turbine of the Chipopoma hydro plant

You can read more about John Sailesi’s experience here and see an interview he gave here. Visiting his project in Livingstonia proved a fitting cap to a hugely rewarding week in the beautiful country that is Malawi!