Power Africa Grant Helps Improve Electricity Access for Thousands of Malawians Living Beyond the Grid

Solar home systems bring light to households at night.
Solar home systems bring light to households at night. Photo credit: Power Africa

Lack of access to a reliable and sustainable energy supply remains a pressing concern for approximately 85 percent of Malawian households, a condition that hampers economic growth and development.

“I use candles or paraffin lamps for lighting. This makes it difficult for my children to do their homework at night,” Chrissy Kasawe, Chalendewa, Malawi

To accelerate universal access to dependable electricity, in July 2019, Power Africa launched the Solar Home System (SHS) Kick-Starter Program for Malawi, providing financial assistance and operational support to help private sector SHS companies scale operations and sales in rural and urban communities.

Power Africa awarded $2 million of results-based grant funding to four SHS companies: SolarWorks!, VITALITE, Yellow, and Zuwa Energy. By December 2020, the four companies had connected nearly 58,000 households to electricity.

WATCH: The Impact of Power Africa’s Work in Malawi

The Journey So Far

The grant program commenced with the provision of project management skills training to VITALITE and SolarWorks!, while support to Zuwa Energy and Yellow consisted of business operations planning. Power Africa tailored and adapted its support to the companies’ respective needs. Through ongoing consultations, Power Africa continuously assessed progress and allocated the appropriate resources.

In 2020, Power Africa support focused on sales force effectiveness training and on building the companies’ capacities to recruit and retain sales agents.

“The supervisors and managers who received the sales training have found it very useful and are already adopting and implementing some ideas from the training around sales pitching, sales planning, agent recruitment and agent motivation,” Mr. Jones Ntaukira, Chief Executive Officer, Zuwa Energy

Our advisors also trained the companies to use Power Africa’s route-to-market geospatial tool, adapted to the Malawian market. Developed by Power Africa, the tool assists companies with formulating strategies for scaling operations while optimizing return on sales.

Throughout the grant period, the companies submit quarterly milestone reports highlighting successes and challenges and reporting the quarterly SHS sales figures. Based on progress demonstrated in the reports, Power Africa disburses funds to participants.

Since 2019, the companies have expanded business operations and widened their distribution networks, reaching remote areas in Malawi that previously had no access to electricity.

SHS sales and customer connections are increasing through:

  • Business expansion:

SolarWorks! established its main office and warehouse in Lilongwe and now has six operational shops.

VITALITE became more established in the central region where they opened up three sales and service centers. Yellow opened a new office in Blantyre (expanding from Lilongwe), which allowed the company to recruit agents and sell units in the southern region.

Zuwa opened four new shops, including one that caters to the significant unelectrified population in Mchinji District, 100 kilometers west of Lilongwe.

One of Zuwa’s new shops
One of Zuwa’s new shops
One of Zuwa’s new shops. Photo credit: Zuwa Energy

The companies also recruited full-time staff members and established dedicated operational teams to support distribution networks across the country.

  • Sales agent recruitment and skills development:

Through Power Africa’s sales force effectiveness training, companies focused on extending sales knowledge and skills to their agents. Collectively, the companies deploy around 700 sales agents across the country. The growth in the number of sales agents not only increases the companies’ reach and sales, but also enhances the livelihoods of local agents by boosting their immediate earnings and long-term earning potential.

  • Marketing and product innovation:

The companies regularly conduct product demonstrations and promotions, as well as community outreach activities to explain the benefits of SHS. Additionally, all companies have active social media platforms where new products, successes, and vacancies are publicized.

Some grantees also launched innovative products like solar television systems and smartphones as part of their product range to help underserved communities enter the digital world.

SolarWorks! has added solar TVs to its product offering
SolarWorks! has added solar TVs to its product offering
SolarWorks! has added solar TVs to its product offering. Photo credit: SolarWorks!
  • Partnerships:

Through the growth of their businesses, some SHS companies established key partnerships with mobile service providers like Airtel Money and Telekom Networks Malawi to collect monthly installments through mobile payments. This makes it easier for customers to pay their monthly bills. Zuwa entered into a partnership with Malawi Posts Corporation that involves using existing post offices in rural and peri-urban areas as points of sales.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 had a negative impact on operations and sales. The grantees were not able to continue with business as usual; shops were closed, door-to-door sales were limited, and access to stock ordered from outside the country was delayed.

Taking into account the impact of COVID-19 on SHS companies, Power Africa modified the SHS Kick-Starter grant milestones and disbursement schedule to include the submission of a business continuity report, which triggered a disbursement of funding to ease the SHS companies’ liquidity constraints.

Additionally, Power Africa provided updates to SHS companies on the relief funding opportunities available to support business continuity during this time.

Why Solar Home Systems Work

Most SHSs have small radio and mobile phone charging devices that are powered by a solar panel and battery.
Most SHSs have small radio and mobile phone charging devices that are powered by a solar panel and battery.
Most SHSs have small radio and mobile phone charging devices that are powered by a solar panel and battery. Photo credit: Power Africa

The SHS solution utilizes an off-grid electrification method that is flexible, easy to deploy, and affordable. A typical system comprises a solar panel, battery, radio, and light bulbs. By placing the panel in sunlight during the day, the solar energy can be stored (in a small battery) and used to power lights and small appliances. This method provides electricity access to the entire household. SHS can be rolled out quickly, making it an attractive solution for electrification in rural and sparsely populated areas.

The size and number of appliances that SHS include depends on the size of the panels and batteries.

The Impact

Power Africa’s SHS Kick-Starter Program is enabling SHS companies to create a massive impact and sustain unprecedented economic growth. Through the program, participants successfully strategize, expand operations, recruit and retain sales agents, and increase household connections to electricity in Malawi.

One of the almost 58,000 connections achieved so far is that of VITALITE customer, Chrissy Kasawe: “Ever since I was introduced to solar, I am very happy as my children are now able to get their homework done and study even at night. Also, I am able to charge my phone and listen to the radio at any given time together with my family.”

With light from a solar-powered lamp, children are able to do homework at night.
With light from a solar-powered lamp, children are able to do homework at night.
With light from a solar-powered lamp, children are able to do homework at night. Photo credit: Power Africa

The SHS Kick-Starter will continue to have life-changing impacts beyond the three-year grant period by improving the living standards of rural households and enabling income generating activities for communities in Malawi.

Follow Power Africa on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook to keep abreast of the grant winners’ successes on their journey to revolutionize affordable household electricity access across Malawi.

A U.S. Government-led partnership that seeks to add 30,000 MW and 60 million electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 > https://bit.ly/2yPx3lJ