Sunday, February 2, 2014

Renew ‘N’ Able increases rural access to renewable energy technologies

Renew ‘N’ Able Malawi (Renama), a Non-Governmental Organisation formed by former volunteer Martina Kunert, has embarked on a data compilation exercise that will see it profile service providers in the natural resource management and renewable energy technologies sector.

Renama director Kunert says the initiative has been hatched with the goal of solving poor coordination problems that have marred implementation of programmes in the sector, and led to duplication of efforts, lack of a best practices’ sharing culture, and difficulties in identifying organisations involved in natural resources’ work.

“We have realized that, at the moment, project implementers are not learning from each other. The exercise, which is being facilitated by the Movement for Bio-Energy Advocacy Utilisation Learning Action (Mbaula) Network, will, therefore, help improve coordination. Our work is about changing structures by equipping poor households with an environment conducive to transforming poverty into a life beyond mere existence,” Kunert says.

She says information gathered from service organisations will be of benefit to both local and international organisations, and would go a long way in promoting initiatives such as alternative house holds energy projects.

Currently, Renama is running a ‘Rural Energy Kiosk Pilot Project’ being implemented at Bvumbwe in Thyolo and Dzenje in Phalombe courtesy of a grant received under the Scottish Government Malawi Development Fund 2012/13. The project, which is targeting 400 households, will see solar-powered energy kiosks being installed at Bvumbwe Court and Dzenje Primary School.

This intention is to develop the kiosks into fully community-owned and managed rental and charging stations for battery packs, and will have in-built charge controllers and compatible basic energy devices such as mobile phone charging kits, LED lamps, tube lights, small low-power TV screens for private households.

In addition, the project also has a limited number of satellite decoders, laptop charging kits and complete solar sets available to higher income households, centres, community institutions, and small businesses.

Says Kunert: “A component of the project is the Local Electricity Inventor Competition in which school classes, teams and individuals from the surrounding communities will be encouraged to think about practicable solutions to electrify household devices with locally-developed generation methods.

“University members and educated public are also invited to suggest concepts for alternative, more locally-developed and maintainable generation technologies to charge energy kiosks instead of using solar PV, which, in the end, always depends on an agent to help source or import appropriate equipments, combined with regular high-cost replacements and long-term high-technology maintenance needs.”

Kunert says the project seeks to compliment government’s efforts to increase people’s access to cheap, alternative energy products. As part of government’s efforts to turn this goal into reality, President Joyce Banda has just appended her signature to the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves.

The Alliance seeks to facilitate the distribution of two million cook stoves to Malawians who have no access to hydro-electric power by the year 2020.

“The Thyolo and Mulanje projects are proving to be successful because we have seen community members, people who could previously not afford hydro-electric power, manage their own energy needs. What we are doing is to let out battery packs, lamps, small television sets, and other things, to community members,” Kunert says.

On their part, the community members have formed committees comprising of 15 members. These committees look after kiosks that benefit 200 people, and are run by two kiosk managers who derive their pay from rental income.

“People need sustainable basic energy at their disposal to study, communicate, cook safely, innovate, and be safe. They need access to information tailored to their understanding, education and language to foster innovation and help (pull) themselves out of poverty, and this includes access to practical information on simple, low-cost technology and material sourcing. Poor households need access to adequate financing options to acquire adequate start-up equipment to diversify income sources and create entrepreneurship,” Kunert says.

Kunert says all this work has come about after realising that that conventional wood fuels and paraffin used for heating and lighting negatively affect many aspects of life.

All these innovations are premised on the fact that, when clean energy takes the place of accidents and fumes, it is life that wins.

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